Residency requirements for political candidates can be “fuzzy.”

That’s according to Mimi Marziani, an expert in election law with the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. Where people live can be difficult to define legally, and that makes residency requirements for candidates difficult to pin down. 

“As a matter of proof for someone digging … into it, it is more complicated than counting how many days somebody put their head on a pillow in a certain jurisdiction,” Marziani said. 

The Fort Worth Report has previously reported on candidates who claim to live in one district, but appear to live in another. Residency requirements for candidates are clear enough. What’s less clear is how to disprove residency and seek accountability. 

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Residency requirements vary by political office

The Texas Elections Code governs the requirements to run for office. Texas law requires that candidates live in the state for 12 months and the district they are seeking to represent for six months immediately preceding the candidate filing deadline. These rules extend to other elected positions, such as school boards. 

Municipalities may set up their own residency requirements that differ from the state’s rules, but Fort Worth’s requirements match state law, said Jannette Goodall, Fort Worth’s city secretary. 

Some facts might help voters, or more often an opponent on the ballot, determine if candidates actually live in the homes they say they live in. Voter registration records and homestead exemptions are critical facts in proving someone’s residency, but no single fact would likely settle the issue, Marziani said.

Homestead exemption definition

According to the Texas Comptroller website: Tax Code Section 11.13(b) requires school districts to provide a $25,000 exemption on a residence homestead and Tax Code Section 11.13(n) allows any taxing unit to adopt a local option residence homestead exemption of up to 20 percent of a property’s appraised value. The local option exemption cannot be less than $5,000. Tax Code Section 11.13(a) requires counties that collect farm-to-market or flood control taxes to provide a $3,000 residence homestead exemption.

To qualify for the general residence homestead exemption an individual must have an ownership interest in the property and use the property as the individual’s principal residence. An applicant is required to state that he or she does not claim an exemption on another residence homestead in or outside of Texas.

One reason candidates have residency requirements is the same as why voters have residency requirements: to prevent chaos in the administration of elections. 

It can be argued that residency is important to securing the best representation, Marziani said. 

Residents voted in 1975 to amend Fort Worth’s charter and create single-member districts. Following the drawing of single member districts, in 1977 the racial makeup of the City Council changed, adding a Latino, Louis Zapata Sr., and a Black woman, Walter Barbour, who represented minority neighborhoods that were previously overlooked by at-large representatives.

Fort Worth redraws the boundaries of single member districts every 10 years. The goal of single member districts remain “to create districts that, when drawn, provide the best  opportunities to elect City Council members who reflect the diverse population of the city,” according to city documents. 

If voters live near each other, they’re more likely to have something in common with each other, racially, economically and culturally. That extends to their representative, too, Marziani said. 

Beyond the legal implications of residency, there is the political. While the laws on residency can be fuzzy, the politics of living outside your district tend to be clearer, Marziani said. 

YouTube video
 A 1977 story from WFAA depicts the motivations behind creating single-member districts and the minority communities they are meant to empower.

“I do think there’s something that is very just sort of human nature, my neighbors understand what I’m going through better than somebody from across town,” Marziani said.

Accountability for residency requires lawsuit

Fort Worth does not have the authority to investigate residency claims, Goodall said. Once the city receives an application for a place on the ballot, it takes the information filed on face value, the city secretary said. 

Candidates also are required to sign a sworn affidavit that the information they are providing on the application is accurate, Goodall said. 

“We do not have the authority to go out and investigate whether or not the individual actually lives in that address or not,” Goodall said. “The courts in Texas have clearly defined that question of residency is for them to decide.”

A lawsuit through state courts would be the most obvious way to challenge a candidate’s residency. Typically, the person filing the lawsuit against a candidate or office-holder would be that candidate’s political opponent. 

“They have a clear stake in knowing the answer to that,” Marziani said. “Obviously, they have standing to come into court.”

A city secretary could also plausibly bring a lawsuit against candidates who lie on their application, Marziani said.

Concerned residents of a district could have a harder time making an argument that they have enough of a stake to bring a lawsuit against a candidate, Marziani said. 

All elections in Tarrant County are administered through Tarrant County elections; Marziani said the county might be a good place to reach out with residency concerns, too. Residents may contact Tarrant County Elections by calling 817-831-8683

Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Phil Sorrells urged anyone with an election integrity concern to reach out to the task force at 817-884-1213.

“We have investigated potential residency violations in the past,” Sorrells said in a statement. “So as not to interfere with the election process, our investigations did not begin until after the election was held.”

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Rachel BehrndtGovernment Accountability Reporter

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report in collaboration with KERA. She is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri where she majored in Journalism and Political...