Where did you sleep last night?


That is the question I sometimes ask when eligible residents are wanting to know what address to use when registering to vote. For most people, the answer is simple: your home address. That answer does not work for people who sleep in cars or under a bridge.

Fortunately, our voter registration form accommodates those voters by allowing registrants to “describe where you reside”; however, if you describe a place that the Post Office does not deliver mail to, then you will not receive your voter registration card and you will not be fully (100%) registered to vote.

If the place you live/sleep does not have an address the Post Office delivers to, then you need to provide us with a mailing address when you register to vote. That may mean you rent a post office box or talk someone into receiving your mail. The only way to receive your voter registration card is via the Post Office because the law prohibits us from handing you your card over the counter. Why? Because we use the Post Office to confirm you gave us a valid address.

Although you will never find the “where did you sleep last night” question in any election administrator’s handbook or the Code of Iowa, I have found that question helps eligible residents quickly decide where they should register to vote. When a registrant signs the voter registration form, they are affirming under the penalty of perjury that they “live at the address” they indicated on the voter registration form.

This year, I have received three inquiries about elected officials and where they are “living”. One inquiry was in the news and the other two were not. One inquiry concerned a member of the Cedar Rapids City Council and another concerned a member of the Iowa Senate.

I contacted the Senator after confirming the Senator’s voter registration address had changed to an address outside of the Senator’s district. The Senator had sold one home and had been living temporarily in an apartment outside the Senate district while a new home was being built. The Senator had already moved back into his/her Senate district at the time of my inquiry. Case closed.

Why did I follow-up on those two inquiries? The Code of Iowa (Chapter 69.5) states that county auditors have a duty to inform the Governor of vacancies in the Legislature, and vacancies occur when elected legislators no longer reside in their districts (Chapter 69.2).

I have no such duty to follow-up on inquiries about members of city councils. The city council is responsible for determining if a council position is vacant and twenty-five (25) registered voters of the city can petition the council and force them to determine if a vacancy exists.

I did not contact the Cedar Rapids city councilor. The councilor contacted me.

The councilor wanted me to know that s/he had always been a resident of CR even though his/her spouse owned a home outside of CR. I think the councilor even indicated s/he slept at the CR home every night. I told the councilor that the Council is responsible for determining if a vacancy has occurred on the Council, and since the Council has not notified me of a vacancy, one does not exist. Case closed.

Several years ago, I recall a former legislator boasting that he went to the residence of a legislative candidate and looked in the window of the home to see if the candidate was living in the residence. He reported he did not think the candidate was living there.

About four years ago, several people hired a private investigator to keep tabs on the living/sleeping habits of Marion’s mayor. The Marion City Council reviewed the evidence and concluded the mayor was a resident of Marion.

Every person registering to vote signs a voter registration form and attests to the accuracy of the information on the form under the penalty of perjury. Every person elected to a public office in Iowa takes an oath of office and swears to uphold the laws of Iowa and the United States (Chapter 63).

Our democracy is based upon geographic boundaries and we divide our geography into various political subdivisions. Where an elected official lives (and sleeps) matters. And the onus of whether a vacancy exists or does not exists resides with the elected official.

We can only hope that we are living among elected officials who have the integrity to resign from the office they hold if they are not “living” and sleeping (my criteria) within the political subdivision they were elected to represent. Don’t ask me to peek into a window. –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

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