CANTON — District 14 state Senate candidate Matt Laughridge is disputing claims that he is not legally eligible to run in the Nov. 5 special election because he hasn’t lived in the senatorial district he wants to represent for a full year.
The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office received a formal complaint challenging Laughridge’s candidacy Friday afternoon and is reviewing claims that his bid for the seat violates the state’s Constitution, Cody Whitlock, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, confirmed.
Laughridge, 25, sent out a news release late Friday stating he said would set the record straight.
He was one of six candidates who qualified to run for the seat Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville) resigned from to focus on his bid for U.S. Congress.
“Questions surrounding my qualifications for the 14th Senate District race are nothing more than a political ploy meant to distract voters from the real issues of this campaign,” said Laughridge.
“My legal residence for nearly two years has sat squarely in the 14th District.”
That residence is a houseboat docked on Lake Allatoona at an address on Captains Walk Drive in Cartersville, according to Melanie Collier, spokesperson for the Laughridge campaign. Collier said Laughridge is living on the boat while another home in District 14 is being renovated.
Collier said Saturday that Laughridge was “in a very remote area” out of the country and not available for comment about his news release.
The Secretary of State’s Office first began looking into Laughridge’s candidacy Wednesday when Cherokee community activist Linda Flory contacted elections officials and turned over documents she said demonstrated his ineligibility for the office.
The complaint was made official Friday afternoon when Canton resident Garrett Jamieson submitted a formal challenge against Laughridge. Jamieson also submitted complaints against District 14 candidates Dean Sheridan and Christopher G. Nesmith on Thursday, claiming the two were ineligible to run because of unpaid taxes.
Whitlock said Friday the challenges against Sheridan and Nesmith are still under review by the Secretary of State’s office.
Flory said Saturday that Jamieson was the one to file the complaint against Laughridge, because he lives in District 14.
Although Flory lives in Ball Ground, outside of District 14, she said she still has an interest in who gets elected in Cherokee County.
Flory is backing candidate Dwight Pullen of Canton. Other candidates are Nicole Ebbeskotte and Bruce Thompson.
“My interest in this and any other election is looking to make sure that our candidates are being honest,” she said. “I don’t agree to support any candidate or vote for any candidate until I check them all out. I’m not going to support anyone without knowing what they say is the truth.”
Another issue raised by Flory and Jamieson in evidence against Laughridge is his voting record.
According to Bartow County election documents, Laughridge voted in a different Senate district, District 52, three times in 2012.
The last vote was cast Nov. 6, when Laughridge was registered to vote with an address on Reynolds Lane in Kingston, records show.
He changed the address on his voter registration last month to an address on Peeples Valley Road, which is in District 14, according to the Bartow County elections office. Collier said the home on Peeples Valley Road is undergoing construction, and Laughridge is staying on the boat in the meantime.
As for the house on Reynolds Lane, Collier said the candidate’s parents live there. He didn’t change his address from that of his parents for voting until August because he wanted to only make one change of address when the renovations on Peeples Valley Road were complete, Collier said.
Laughridge briefly addressed his voting record in the Friday statement.
“Ironically, a few detractors to my campaign have also brought up the fact that I voted in 2012 at my former precinct,” he said.
“While this is just another distraction, the Georgia Court of Appeals has already addressed this issue, and I will let their ruling stand on its own.”
Jamieson and Flory disagree and have taken their complaints against the candidate one step further, alleging that if Laughridge truly lived in District 14 and voted in District 52, he has committed false registration in the complaint filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
“He’s basically committing voter fraud,” Jamieson said Saturday. “I feel this needs to be looked into.”
Collier said Saturday that accusation, too, is false.
“Any complaint can be filed,” Collier said. “It is absolutely completely lawful to have voted in a (different district).”