Dorchester Co Council candidate residency in question ahead of Nov. election

The address listed on a county council candidate’s filing paperwork takes voters to an empty...
The address listed on a county council candidate’s filing paperwork takes voters to an empty field were there’s not house to be found.(Live 5)
Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 1:46 PM EDT
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DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Dorchester County Councilwoman Harriet Holman made headlines in February when she announced she was switching parties and joining the Republican ranks. The democratic defection completed the total Republican hold on the county with every election position now squarely in the hands of the local GOP.

However, even as the transition was happening opponents were quietly questioning whether or not she actually lived in the district. The question came up publicly during the primary but was not the race’s defining feature. Her general election opponent Tim Lewis says the questions surrounding her residency are concerning.

“I have no idea where she lives,” Lewis said. “People are telling me that she doesn’t live in the district. . . It’s an issue. It’s important to the folks that I listen to. . . It’s vitally important that you live in the area that you represent.”

According to Holman’s campaign filing paperwork, her address is 6188 Badham Drive. A survey of the site shows a few outbuildings and a rusting fence, but no home. The home that once sat on that property was the historic Badham House that burned down in 2019. Holman owned the home and was at the house when the fire started. Her son died in the fire and she was sent to the hospital.

It’s unclear where Holman has been living for the last three years. Property records show she owns a home in Santee in Orangeburg County.

“The home in Santee is a vacation home that I have owned well before the tragedy occurred involving my son and house,” Holman wrote in a statement to Live 5 News. “I am registered to vote at 6188 Badham Drive as that is where I intend to live when we rebuild. I am residing at 6196 Badham, which we recently purchased as it is taking longer to rebuild than expected.”

6196 Badham Drive is the property directly adjacent to the historic property listed on her campaign filing. Holman did not respond to questions asking her when the property was purchased, but a public search of property records does not show that it has been purchased. According to people working in the Dorchester County Auditor’s Office and the Dorchester County Register of Deeds Office, property purchases can take a month or more to fully process and have public records updated.

State law in this case requires a candidate running for county council to be a resident of the district they’re looking to represent. Effectively, that means the candidate is required to be a registered voter in that area. In order to be a registered voter, you have to prove residency. Despite being well defined in state law, residency is left open to interpretation.

Charleston Attorney Edward Pritchard says the law is extremely complicated.

“A person’s residency is his domicile. Domicile means a person’s fixed home where he has intent of returning when he is absent. A person only has one domicile,” Prichard said. “Obviously, whether someone intends to return when absent is a question of intent. What is that person’s intent? Obviously, the only person who knows the actual answer to that question is the person whose residency is in question.”

According to South Carolina Election Commission officials, they do not have the authority to weigh in on a matter of residency. Local election officials also said they can’t address the residency requirement. Instead, the SCEC says only the political party of the candidate can disqualify their own candidate for not meeting requirements.  After the election is settled the certification can be challenged on grounds that the candidate does not meet the requirements, but ultimately, the only real way to get a legal opinion on residency would be to file a lawsuit.

“It’s a complicated issue. You’d have to have a specific fact pattern to delve into. . . for instance, we’d look at their driver’s license, where they’re registered to vote, what they put on their tax returns, what do the bank statements say,” Prichard said. “Ultimately, everything would go to the South Carolina Supreme Court in the case of a South Carolina office.”

Regardless of whether Holman is legally a resident, Lewis says from an ethical standpoint, the candidate representing the people living in Dorchester District One should live in the district.

“That is our system of government. You live in the area that you represent,” Lewis said. “that’s important. I know it’s a concern for folks. They want someone who’s here that represents them, that understands their challenges.”

According to the SCEC, Holman would only have to prove she meets the requirements of office at the time of the election.

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