In Williamston, they’re about to have a special election to fill an open seat on town council. One of the two candidates doesn’t live in the district he’s campaigning to represent, but that’s well within the law. In fact, in some cases the law is so relaxed a candidate never has to live anywhere near the district that elects him.
Robert Vaughn called 7 On Your Side to ask about the race for town council. He lives two doors down from the home where one of the candidates will eventually live.
“Nobody lives there. The house is owned by somebody but nobody lives in the house," Vaughn said.
The owner of that house is a former town councilman, and current candidate, named Mike Looper. Looper lost a runoff election in late November for Ward 4 by just 5 votes. Looper still lives in Ward 4.
Now, Looper is campaigning in a special election for an open seat in Ward 2. That seat was left vacant when the previous councilman was elected mayor in November. Looper has never lived in Ward 2, but he does own that house near Robert Vaughn.
“How does he really know what’s going on in this neighborhood if he doesn't live here?" Vaughn asked.
Looper is doing nothing wrong. The law says he’s an eligible candidate as long as he moves into the district he plans to represent at least 24 hours before election day. He’s already in the process of moving.
Even his opponent in the upcoming race said the residency is not an issue.
“That's not up for me to decide whether or not that's fair. That's really up to the voter," said Rocky Burgess.
The 24 hour timeframe isn’t unusual in South Carolina. In fact, under state law most county council and school board elections have the same requirement.
Other races, like US Congress are even more relaxed. To run for the US House, you need to live in the state you plan to represent but not the district. A person could live in the Upstate but be a legal candidate for US Congress in Charleston.
As for Looper, “As councilmen we represent the whole town a lot of people don't understand that this is a town wide vote and we represent the whole town not just our ward and people need to realize that," Looper said.