2 Douglas County Commission candidates face residence questions; clerk’s office says they’re both legal

photo by: Contributed photos

Douglas County Commission 3rd District candidates, from left, Shannon Portillo and Karen Willey.

A candidate for Douglas County Commission listed a residential address on her candidate filing form for a property that she does not own, which has led to her receiving questions about whether she is legally running for election.

But Shannon Portillo, who is one of two Democratic candidates running for the County Commission’s 3rd District seat, told the Journal-World that she was living at the property when she filed for election and she and her partner, Jevan Bremby, recently moved to a new home within the same area, both of which are legal actions.

“For the past month, questions around my residency have emerged, popping up on my social media, in forums, and now, from the Lawrence Journal-World,” she said in an email to a Journal-World reporter. “In this historic moment nationally and locally, the ‘issue’ of my residency ranks somewhere below a non-story. However, those asking questions have often referenced a ‘papertrail.’ I want to assure the community that, indeed, there is a paper trail. One that I am happy to share.”

When running for election to the Douglas County Commission, candidates must reside in the district they are intending to represent at the filing deadline, which was May 31. Portillo’s former home, which is in North Lawrence, is in the County Commission’s 2nd District. But, as a west Lawrence resident, Portillo is running for election as a 3rd District candidate.

Portillo has previously stated she recently moved from North Lawrence to the western side of town before filing for election. According to her candidate filing, she listed her residence as 1401 Brighton Circle, which is in western Lawrence. However, that is not Portillo’s property and not where she currently lives. She now lives at 1037 April Rain Road, which is also in western Lawrence, she said.

While the address filed with the county is not hers, Portillo said she was living there at the time she filed for election because she was waiting to finalize the purchase of their new home. The Brighton Circle property is owned by her close friend Darren Canady.

Portillo said she was in the process of purchasing their new home before the filing deadline. She and Bremby put a bid in on the property on April 17 and went under contract to purchase it on April 28, she said. While they hoped to close the sale by the end of May, Portillo said it was delayed a few weeks and was then closed on June 15. In the meantime, they were staying with Canady, she said.

The Douglas County Register of Deeds Office provided the Journal-World with the deed for the property, which shows the county recorded Portillo and Bremby becoming the owners of the April Rain Road property on June 15.

Additionally, prior to filing for election, Portillo explained her situation to the Douglas County Clerk’s Office and asked if she could file to run in the 3rd District. Portillo provided the Journal-World with emails she sent to the clerk’s office, which included a staff member telling Portillo she could legally file to run with the Brighton Circle address and then move to the April Rain Road property later because they were in the same district.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew confirmed to the Journal-World that Portillo reached out to his office, and staff had informed her of the law and that residing at a friend’s house before moving to a new home within the same district was legal. He said a candidate’s residence is defined as a place “they intend to return,” and the state’s election board has considered that as a place where a candidate “intends to lay their head,” or where they are intending to sleep. That all means Portillo staying at a friend’s home is a legal residence for election.

“So, in accordance with all of the processes explained to me, I elected to stay with a friend, Darren Canady (1401 Brighton Circle), who resides in the third district for the two weeks before we closed,” Portillo said in the email.

Portillo, noting she is Mexican American, said she was disappointed with questions about her residency, particularly because they are asking a woman of color to prove she lives in one of the “most suburban neighborhoods” in Lawrence.

“I love Lawrence and am excited to serve as County Commissioner,” she said. “While some in our community question my right to run, I am here to represent my community and push for our policies to align with our values.”

County Commission candidate Karen Willey listed on ballot as Lawrence resident, despite Baldwin City address

The residence of another candidate in the Democratic primary election for the County Commission’s 3rd District has highlighted a separate issue in Kansas election law.

Karen Willey, who lives in rural Douglas County in the Willow Springs Township, is listed on the primary election ballot as a resident of Lawrence. Willey technically has a Baldwin City address.

Shew said that in such cases Kansas law allows candidates to decide which city is associated with their name on the ballot, whether they live there or not. Additionally, there is no way to challenge a candidate’s ballot city in the law, he said. So that means candidates can place whatever community they choose as their residence. Shew said candidates in statewide races have used that loophole before.

Willey told the Journal-World she did not list Baldwin City as her residence because she does not live there and because that community is not in the district she resides in and is running to represent.

Willey is one of four candidates running for the County Commission’s 3rd District seat, which represents the western side of Douglas County. Baldwin City is located on the eastern side, which is represented by the County Commission’s 2nd District.

That actually caused some confusion when Willey originally filed for the race. When she filed, the clerk’s office showed Willey running for the 2nd District, rather than the 3rd District, because of the city associated with her address, she said.

“It was very confusing,” she said.

Additionally, Willey said she tried to list a residence she felt was more accurate, like “southern Douglas County” or “Willow Springs Township,” rather than the name of one of the county’s cities. But she could not do that, she said, so she went with Lawrence, which is partially represented by the 3rd District.

“I’ve tried to be really clear that I’m rural, for better or for worse,” Willey said. “I don’t live in either place. I live in southern Douglas County.”

Contact Dylan Lysen

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