Secretary of State websites routinely list incorrect information about qualifications for federal office

On the heels challenges to federal candidates’ qualifications in places like Tennessee and North Carolina, I took a look at how states describe the qualifications for federal office. The results were quite disheartening. Secretaries of State routinely present erroneous information about the qualifications for federal office.

In its “Federal Qualifications and Responsibilities,” the Washington Secretary of State claims, “Except for the President and Vice President, all federal officials elected in
Washington must be registered voters of the state.” And for U.S. Representative, “Representatives are not required to be registered voters of their district, but must be registered voters of the state.” The Ninth Circuit in Schaefer v. Townsend has made it quite clear that such requirements are additional qualifications inconsistent with U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton. Even worse, Washington law expressly provides, “The requirements of voter registration and residence within the geographic area of a district do not apply to candidates for congressional office. Qualifications for the United States congress are specified in the United States Constitution.”

In California, the Secretary of State explains, “Every candidate shall be at least 30 years of age, a U.S. citizen for nine years, and a resident of California on January 3, 2023, the date to be sworn into office if elected.” But the Constitution requires that no person shall be a Senator “who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state for which he shall be chosen.” “When elected” is not when sworn into office.

And over in Virginia, the Department of Elections alleges, “You have been a citizen of the United States for the past seven years on or before the date of being elected to office, Tuesday, November 8, 2022,” and “You will be twenty-five years of age on or before the date of being elected to office, Tuesday, November 8, 2022.” Neither of these are true. In both cases, Congress has allowed people who are underage or haven’t yet hit the citizenship requirement on Election Day to still serve in Congress, as long as they meet the qualifications by the time they present their credentials. (Joe Biden, for instance, was 29 when elected to the Senate, but turned 30 before he presented his credentials January 3, 1973.)

I haven’t done exhaustive research through these websites. And it’s hardly clear any candidate is relying on this information. But it’s troubling to see basic misstatements of federal qualifications pervading Secretary of State websites. Block quoting the Constitution is preferable to these summaries. It also makes me wonder what other inaccurate information might be lurking around these sites that, say, ordinary voters might rely upon. But that’s a topic for another investigation.

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