Jason Chaffetz

GOP congressional candidate Jason Chaffetz will not vote for himself on Election Day. He cannot. He does not live in the 3rd District, which he wants to represent next year in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Constitution requires only that House members be inhabitants of the state where they are elected — and Chaffetz meets that criterion by residing in Alpine, about 2.5 miles away from the nearest 3rd District boundary. Alpine is in the only small strip of Utah County not in the district.

That didn't bother voters in June's primary election, when Chaffetz defeated Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, by a 60-40 margin — even as Cannon bought late ads attacking Chaffetz's nonresidency.

Still, not living in a district while seeking to represent it is historically rare. In fact, in the nation's history maybe only two members of the House clearly did not live in their districts, according to digging by the Deseret News and congressional researchers. It could be imprecise because no comprehensive academic research on that topic could be located.

Also, one additional man who lived outside his district was elected — but the House refused to seat him when it ruled he did not even live in the proper state. Questions have arisen about the real residency of many others through the years, but virtually all of them at least claimed to own property or rent an apartment in their districts.

Not Chaffetz. "It would have been a lot easier to tell people that I plan to move, but I don't," he said in an interview. "We love Alpine. We plan to be 'lifers' there. The kids love their school." And he loves his six-bedroom home built in 1998, which the county assessor values at $767,531.

"I have lived in Utah County (the heart of the 3rd District) for 20-plus years," he said. He expects redistricting in 2011 to put Alpine back into the same district as the rest of Utah County. "I think the founders designed things as they did because of potential situations like mine," where he feels he can better represent a district other than his own.

But few people have ever pulled that off, since most voters usually expect their representatives to live with them.

One of two who clearly lived outside their districts was former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, D-Md., who served from 1971 to 1987.

He was the first black elected from Maryland. His true home district was only 20 percent black, and he chose to run in a neighboring Baltimore district that was about half black. "One of the reasons I chose this district is that I worked in it as poverty director, and I'm far closer to its problems," he told the Washington Post.

The other House member who clearly did not live in his district was also from Maryland. Rep. William McCreery was elected in 1807 in a district within the city of Baltimore (where he had lived for years), but he had recently moved to rural Baltimore County.

His election was contested because Maryland had passed a law saying its representatives must live in the districts they represent. But the House ruled that a state law cannot trump the Constitution (that says members need only inhabit the state where elected), and chose to recognize McCreery as a winner and seat him.

A third man was elected to a district where he did not live, but the House refused to seat him. John Bailey was elected in 1823 in Massachusetts. But he had been living in Washington, D.C., where he was a State Department clerk. Strangely, the House ruled he was a legal resident of Massachusetts, but not an "inhabitant" (as constitutional language requires) at the time of election — so it would not seat him.

So Bailey complained that Rep. John Forsyth, D-Ga., also elected in 1823, also did not actually live in Georgia when he was elected (he was a U.S. diplomat living in Spain), so he should be excluded, too. But the House ruled that those serving abroad for the government are still considered inhabitants of their home state, so it seated Forsyth.

In another weird twist, Rep. Philip B. Key of Maryland was elected in 1807 after moving, sort of, into a partially completed home there after living in Washington, D.C. He moved there so soon before the election that he was not considered an official resident, and not allowed to vote. But the House said he was an "inhabitant" anyway, and chose to seat him when his election was contested.

Residency of many other House members has been questioned through the years, but virtually all claimed to live in their districts (whether they actually did or not).

For example, Rep. James M. Beck, R-Pa., had his 1927 election challenged. Time magazine reported that Beck lived in Washington, D.C., and summered in New Jersey. But when he decided to run for Congress, he "promptly rented a sleazy apartment in a poor district of Philadelphia, which he never actually occupied."

When his election was challenged on the grounds that he did not live in Pennsylvania, Time reported, "A cocky Republican majority in the House overrode the evidence against him, (and) seated him regardless."

More recently, Rep. Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio, who served from 1989 to 2007, may never have truly resided in his Bowling Green area district when he represented it. His childhood home was there, and he bought a condominium in the area. But his wife and children lived in a home he owned in the state capital of Columbus (where his wife worked for a state agency), and he spent most of his time there or in Washington.

When asked prior to the 2006 election how much time he stayed at his condominium in his district, Gillmor refused to answer. He won that election anyway, but died in office a year later.

With all that, Chaffetz may become just the third member of the House ever who clearly did not live in his district. Chaffetz said that doesn't particularly bother or excite him. He said merely, "I hope to make history some other way."


E-mail: lee@desnews.com