The S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles does it when issuing driver's licenses. The state's colleges and universities do it when figuring out whether to charge students in-state or out-of-state tuition. And school districts figure it out when assigning students to schools.
But somehow, state government just won't get on board.
We're talking about determining residency -- does a person live where they claim to live? Or in the state's case, does a candidate or an elected official live where they say they do?
Because the state doesn't specifically say just how to make that determination, our area has grappled with the recent cases of Sen. Clementa Pickney, D-Jasper, Beaufort County Council member Cynthia Bensch, outgoing Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head and, until her resignation Thursday, Jasper County school board member Alina Hamilton-Clark, all of whom have been challenged on where they lay their heads at night.
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Luckily, Hamilton-Clark has spared Jasper County residents a hearing on Monday to determine just where she lives. Instead, she resigned her post Thursday after questions were raised about whether she lives in her Ridgeland district, as she recently claimed to a reporter, or on Hilton Head Island where her son attends Hilton Head High School and plays football.
While it's good to see the case resolved, it should serve as another example to state leaders that the state should spell out exactly how candidates and public officials can prove where they live. The current mix of state election laws, the state constitution and local ordinances provide too few details on how to go about the task.
Currently, state law gives much leniency to determining residency for elected officials and all South Carolinians. If a person has the intention of returning to a certain location after an absence, then it can be considered his/her home. That works fine for regular citizens registering to vote, but not for public officials who should be held to a higher standard and should be required to show proof of where they live.
What proof should they be required to show? Possibilities might include a current county tax bill for their home, a monthly statement for their home mortgage, state/federal tax records that show their name and physical address or school district-issued proof that an official's children attend a certain school. Current law allows these documents to be considered when determining residency, but there is no requirement that any of them be provided as part of filing for office or re-election.
Additional tweaks should include a requirement that local election officials be notified of any change in address. And anyone filing for election or re-election should be required to provide a physical address, not a post office box.
Of course, these changes won't provide a complete fix. A public official could move to a new address shortly after paying taxes at his old place. Others may not live at the same address as their children -- or have no children. And some may forget to notify their local elections office when they move.
Indeed, there's no way to guarantee 100 percent compliance. And that's OK. Residency rules should not be so burdensome or restrictive that they discourage people from running for office or seeking re-election.
As Scott Price, an attorney for the S.C. School Boards Association pointed out, seeking office is a fundamental right that shouldn't be unduly hindered. Neither should it be easy to remove an official from office via residency requirements.
Nonetheless, a proof of residency rule could be implemented without threatening that basic tenant of democracy. For example, an official could be required to provide only one document from a long list of possibilities.
This and a few other state law tweaks would go a long way to answering that sometimes elusive question -- Where do you live?