Ruling allows Laughridge to stay on Senate ballot
by Jason Lowrey
Oct 18, 2013 | 1867 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County Republican Matt Laughridge will be staying on the Senate District 14 ballot for Nov. 5.

Judge Michael Malihi, an administrative law judge with the Office of State Administrative Hearings, ruled Laughridge met the residency requirements necessary to run for a seat in District 14.

On Sept. 20, Garrett Jamieson filed a challenge to Laughridge’s qualifications, stating he had not been living in District 14 for the necessary one year prior to qualifying for state office. When he qualified for the election, Laughridge was living in a houseboat on Lake Allatoona, though he also owned a home on Peeples Valley Road that was undergoing renovation. Laughridge’s driver’s license and 2012 voting records placed him at his parent’s home on Reynolds Lane in Kingston, which is within District 52.

According to court documents, Laughridge moved into the houseboat December 2011, and bought the home on Peeples Valley Road Dec. 31, 2012. He qualified using the houseboat address and a Cartersville post office box. When Laughridge was notified September he could not live on the houseboat due to Army Corps of Engineer rules prohibiting living in recreational vehicles longer than 30 days, he moved to an apartment at 950 E. Main St., Cartersville.

When Jamieson argued Laughridge lived on the houseboat in violation of federal regulations, the judge’s ruling agreed with Laughridge’s legal team, saying, “[w]hether or not Respondent is in compliance with those regulations is wholly irrelevant to the determination of the candidate qualification and residence/domicile under Georgia state law.”

Malihi came to his decision by citing a handful of precedents, including Haggard v. Graham, a 1977 case in which the Georgia Court of Appeals stated, “a candidate was domiciled in the district where he testified that he intended to stay and where he received mail and kept his food, clothing, household furnishing and tools,” according to the Laughridge ruling. The document also notes the court of appeals ruled in the candidate’s favor in spite of evidence establishing he was registered to vote in another district and did vote in that district.

“Although Respondent did not intend to live on the houseboat permanently, he established intent to live in Senate District [14] when he moved onto the houseboat. Respondent’s intent to remain in Senate District [14] is evidenced by his purchase of property located in the District,” the ruling reads.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who had final say in whether Laughridge would appear on the ballot as Georgia law allows him to overturn the decision, supported Malihi’s ruling.

Melanie Collier, a representative for Laughridge’s campaign, said the candidate was pleased with the ruling.

“Well, he was delighted and, needless to say, we were very confident that Matt would remain on the ballot and we’re very happy we’ve got the agreement from the Secretary of State Brian Kemp and that he has ruled in that favor,” she said.

Jamieson, acting as petitioner, is allowed to appeal the ruling. However, Collier said Laughridge and the campaign were not concerned about that possibility. Instead, Collier said Laughridge would focus on the issues in the days leading up to the election.

“Well, needless to say, this was a very unfortunate situation that this was even brought up to begin with, because, clearly, Matt Laughridge was a resident of the district for the qualified time necessary to be on the ballot,” she said. “So right now we will keep moving forward as we have for the last few weeks and we will continue our campaign as we have in the past. At this point in time, fortunately, we will be able to focus on the issues and not the types of things that result in these type of complaints — unnecessary complaints.”