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Why Don't Congressional Candidates Have To Live In The Districts They Seek To Represent?

King County

To run for office, you have to meet certain criteria. If you're a candidate for the United States House of Representatives, you have to be at least 25 years old and have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years. But  there's no requirement that you live in the congressional district you are vying to represent.

It's Spelled Out In The Constitution

University of Washington political science professor George Lovell says when it comes to residency for congressional candidates, there is just one requirement.

“The U.S. Constitution just requires that the person be a resident of the state,” Lovell said.

Lovell says there have been efforts to add requirements over the years, but the courts have been resistant to "state efforts to attach additional qualifications."

Lovell says it means,  someone could live in Spokane and represent a congressional district on the western side of Washington. While that's unlikely to happen, the issue has come up this year in a Seattle race for Congress.

Candidate In 7th Congressional District Lives Outside The Boundaries

In the general election, Pramila Jayapal is facing off against fellow democrat Brady Walkinshaw in the race for the 7th Congressional District seat.  The seat is now held by Rep. Jim McDermott, who is retiring.

Jayapal does not live in the 7th. Her campaign spokesman, Todd Prieb, says it's not a big deal since Jayapal only lives 20 blocks outside district boundaries.

“I think ultimately what’s important is that the candidate knows the people and knows the area that there about to represent." Prieb said.

He says Jayapal has lived in Seattle for more than 20 years, much longer than Walkinshaw, and points out that her house was in the 7th Congressional District until redistricting put it into the 9th District.

Walkinshaw Hasn't Focused On Opponent's Residence

Brady Walkinshaw hasn't overtly made an  issue of Jayapal's lack of residency in the 7th District. It hasn't seemed to come up in community forums either. However, Walkinshaw's campaign manager, Kyle Layman, is more than happy to talk about it when asked.  He says he thinks it should be something voters consider.

“I mean, I think it’s really important that the voters in the district and the representatives in the district all live in the same place.” Layman said.

He also chided Jayapal for not running in the 9th district where she actually lives.

Jayapal May Move

Even though Jayapal’s spokesman Prieb downplays the importance of residency, he does say, if Jayapal wins, "She is planning on moving into the district.”

Political science professor Lovell says ultimately it will be up to voters to decide if residency of a candidate matters to them.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.