In an escalating residency controversy between West Virginia’s Senate contenders, the wife of Republican businessman John Raese is being purged from the state’s voter rolls because she is also registered to vote in Florida.
John Raese is running against Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin to fill the seat of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D).
Roll Call confirmed Friday that Elizabeth Raese is registered to vote in both states but has not voted in West Virginia since 1998. But in an interview this week with Time magazine, she indicated that she would be — and has been — voting in West Virginia.
“We are West Virginians,” Elizabeth Raese said, according to Time reporter Jay Newton-Small. “We live here, we vote here, people know that. We also have a home in Colorado, but we’re not residents there either.”
Raese campaign spokesman Kevin McLaughlin said Elizabeth Raese does not remember the conversation with the Time reporter, but he added that, “If she did say this, she obviously misspoke.”
Though John Raese’s campaign has repeatedly confirmed that he lives and pays taxes in West Virginia, an investigation by the nonpartisan PolitiFact.com showed that his wife has been registered to vote in Palm Beach County, Fla., since 2001 and voted there in 2008.
Roll Call independently confirmed with Monongalia County (W.Va.) Clerk Carye Blaney that Elizabeth Raese is also registered to vote in Morgantown, W.Va., where she and her husband own a home, but she hasn’t voted there in 12 years.
Blaney said she requested and received certification from Palm Beach County on Friday that Elizabeth Raese has been living and voting there, so she will remove the candidate’s wife from the county voter rolls. Elizabeth Raese will not be able to vote in West Virginia in this year’s elections.
The issue of Elizabeth Raese’s residency and voting status arose after Manchin’s campaign began airing an ad questioning the couple’s ties to the state.
“Raese’s wife is registered to vote in Florida, so she can’t even vote for him. Why should we?” the ad asks.
The couple’s two daughters attend a private Christian school in Florida, according to published reports. PolitiFact also found that Elizabeth Raese has claimed Florida’s homestead tax exemption for permanent residents, but that John Raese is listed as “owner non-resident” of the Palm Beach County property.
Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, said being registered in two states is not illegal — Elizabeth Raese would only be in violation of the law if she tried to vote in both states in the same year. He noted that many states have not put a priority on finding out when voters move and register in other states.
However, Hebert said Elizabeth Raese would have a difficult time proving that she is a West Virginia resident if she did want to vote there.
“If she’s claiming to be a West Virginian and a West Virginia voter … the things that she typically would use to prove that happen to show more ties to Florida than West Virginia,” Hebert said.
John Raese’s insistence that his Florida ties are minimal may also have been hurt by a famous supporter Thursday.
Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who lives in Florida, endorsed Raese on his show this week. “He is a part-time resident here in Palm Beach, and he has a locker right across the, right across the bench from me at a prominent local club. I’ve never played golf with him, but I’ve met him,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted Limbaugh as saying.
Meanwhile, Republicans have hit back against Manchin, claiming Raese is not the only wealthy candidate in the race with ties to Florida.
A Politico story, for example, noted that Manchin is part-owner of a yacht that is docked in Florida. Similarly, Republicans have floated stories about Manchin’s lifestyle, saying he has spent lavishly to upgrade the governor’s mansion with a dozen flat-screen TVs and a whirlpool tub, among other things.