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The right to vote vs. the right to be mayor

The Illinois appeals court that found Rahm Emanuel unqualified to run for mayor of Chicago ruled today that while he is unquestionably qualified to vote in the election, he isn't qualified to be a candidate because he hasn't lived in the city for a year before the election.

The case turns on the meaning of an Illinois law providing that a person cannot run for a city office "unless that person is a qualified elector of the municipality and has resided in the municipality" for at least a year preceding the election.

It's an issue for Emanuel -- a Chicago native and former congressman representing the city -- because he went to Washington to become White House chief of staff when President Obama was elected. At first, he lived in an apartment while his family remained in Chicago. Then, in June 2009, he and his family rented a Washington, DC house while leasing the Chicago house to another family. 

The 2-1 ruling said Emanuel meets the less restrictive state law test of being "a qualified elector," because he clearly intended to live in Washington temporarily and then return to Chicago. What's more, Illinois law says no voter can be found to have lost his legal residence "by reason of his or her absence on business of the United States."

But the court found that the legal test for the residence of a candidate is more narrow.  The requirement that a candidate must have "resided in" the city for a year before the election means, the court said, to "actually live rather than having legal voting residence" -- a qualification that Emanuel "unquestionably does not satisfy."

The court cited a 1901 ruling of the Illinois Supreme Court, which said that someone who has residence in name only, as opposed to actually living in the city, "has no better opportunities for knowing the wants and rightful demands of his constituents than a non-resident, as is as much beyond the wholesome influence of direct contact with them.

The court's dissenting vote, Justice Bertina Lampkin, said her fellow judges ignored long-standing Illinois court rulings about whether being qualified to vote was good enough to be eligible to run as a candidate. The majority's reading of the law "is indefensible," Lampkin said. She accused her colleagues of embarking "on a revision of Illinois law concerning candidate residency requirements."