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Residents challenge Chesterfield County Senator's residency

Virginia State Sen-elect, Ghazala Hashmi speaks to supporters at a Democratic victory party in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.
Steve Helber
Virginia State Sen-elect, Ghazala Hashmi speaks to supporters at a Democratic victory party in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

A handful of Chesterfield County residents have filed a lawsuit which could impact the future of Senator Ghazala Hashmi.

The residents claimHashmi, an incumbent Senator who had to move into her new district following redistricting, lied on her candidate filings about her address. They also say she’s continuing to lie about her residency in violation of state law and the Virginia constitution. These issues should bar her from taking office following her 25-point win earlier this month, they claim.

In a statement, Hashmi said the claims were lies filed by “MAGA election deniers.”

“I’m proud the voters have re-elected me so I can keep serving our community, and I am excited to continue delivering results for Virginia families,” she said.

Anthony Troy is a former Virginia Attorney General. He fended off a challenge to the residency of former Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones when he ran for the House of Delegates in the 90s. He said state law requires two things, residence and a domicile within a district, in order to run for a legislative seat.

“A residence is a home where you reside and live in. A domicile is where you intend to permanently live,” he said. You can have more than one residence, but no more than one domicile. There’s also a level of intent required, or where do you plan for your primary residence to be.

He compared the concept to a revelation he had following his graduation from University of Richmond school of law. He’d moved down to Richmond from the Northeast and had plans to return, but after passing his bar exam he realized he never wanted to take another similar test again.

“I had a residence in Connecticut, I had a residence in Virginia. My intent was Connecticut,” he said. “But when I made that decision, I changed my domicile.”

Charles King is a Loudoun County-based political attorney who handled residency disputes against former Delegate David Ramadan and a former Commonwealth’s attorney Nicole Wittman. He said the threshold to change one’s residence and domicile in Virginia isn’t that high.

“She could update her vehicle registration, set up utilities, or even order food,” he said. “Anything that would show she’s living at that residence.”

And as for successful challenges to a candidate’s residence, neither King nor Troy could easily remember one that won.

“It means, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, if you want to change your domicile it's pretty easy to do,” King said of how that translates for Hashmi.

But Troy also stressed “each one is unique, and that determination has to be made on a factual basis and it will be.”

After this story was published a reader pointed out a successful case involving a Virginia Beach councilman's race. According to local reporting, residents challenged the residency of David Nygaard after he won his race by 200 votes.

A three-judge panel found evidence showed Nygaard only planned to move into an apartment into the district to hold the seat in violation of state law.

That evidence included a text message from the candidate to his new landlord saying, "he is only using the residence in order to run for city council and that he planned on living there part-time," according to 13News television.

His opponent in the race, and plaintiff in the suit challenging his residency, was former councilman John Uhrin. Following Nygaard's disqualification, Uhrin entered but then withdrew from the makeup-election.

And a legal challenge like what Hashmi is about to face isn’t easy. Just as former Delegate Ramadan who faced questions about his residency in 2011:

“It is intensely stressful, financially burdensome and quite distracting,” Ramadan told Radio IQ about the challenge he faced from a fellow Republican when he was running in the district’s primary election. “For my case it was from my campaign. In Hashmi’s case it will be in preparation for the upcoming general assembly session.”

No hearing date has been set for the challenge, but the complaint asks for Hashmi to be disqualified from holding office ahead of January's session. Both lawyers predicted a speedy legal process, with likely a single hearing to resolve all the issues in the complaint ahead of next year.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Updated: November 17, 2023 at 9:55 AM EST
This story was updated to reflect the successful residency challenge against a Virginia Beach councilman's election in 2019.
Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.