Former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon was convicted Wednesday on four counts of voter fraud and perjury for lying about where he lived when he ran for office in 2007 and 2009. He was acquitted of 12 other related charges. The mixed verdict should not obscure the larger issue, which is that state and local laws require politicians to live in the districts they seek to represent, and efforts to evade those laws cannot be tolerated.
Alarcon listed his address on voter registration and candidate filing documents as a run-down house in Panorama City, in the 7th Council District. Prosecutors said he actually lived in his wife’s newer, larger Sun Valley house, outside the district. Alarcon contended that he was staying at the Sun Valley home temporarily while renovating the other property. Jurors, apparently, were persuaded on some (but not all) of the allegations, and Alarcon now faces six years in prison and will be barred from holding public office.
Alarcon is the second L.A. County politician convicted this year for lying about living in his district. State Sen. Roderick D. Wright (D-Inglewood) was found guilty in January, and his conviction prompted some political observers to argue that residency requirements are vague, outdated and unnecessary. After all, not all elective offices have such requirements; a member of Congress, for instance, is not required to live in the district he or she represents. Does a politician really have to live within certain geographical boundaries in order to give voice to that community’s concerns and desires?
We would say yes, residency is in most cases a pretty good proxy for engagement with and knowledge of a district, and there is value in having a member of a community represent that community in government.
But no matter what one thinks of residency requirements, they are the law for state and local politicians. The district attorney’s office should get credit for following through on the Alarcon case, four years after the initial indictment and even after he was termed out of office. The L.A. County district attorney’s office seems to be the only prosecutor in the state willing to bring these types of public integrity cases, and that’s a shame. The residency requirement is not a technicality; it’s a core tenet of our democratic system enshrined in the law. No politician should gain an advantage by lying, and no prosecutor should ignore evidence of voter fraud.
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