VP bid speculation fueled by switch of home states

Action could be aimed at removing obstacle to running mate spot

July 25, 2000|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - As with nearly every constitutional issue, Dick Cheney probably could get an argument about his decision to switch his home state to clear the way for George W. Bush to pick him as his running mate.

Though Bush has not announced his choice, Cheney's switch of voter registration last week from Texas to Wyoming has fueled speculation that he did so to get around a constitutional problem.

Cheney does not live in Wyoming. He once did, and he represented that state in Congress, but his home is in Texas.

The problem Cheney apparently saw in opting to become a Wyoming voter is that Bush lives in Texas, too, and the Constitution forbids the election of a president and a vice president who are inhabitants of the same state.

But what does the Constitution mean by "inhabitant?" It doesn't say. The word is used in the original Constitution, which set up the same-state ban. The word "inhabitant" is repeated, again without definition, in the Twelfth Amendment, which was ratified in 1804 to avoid tie votes for the presidency under the Electoral College system previously used.

"Inhabitant" could mean where one has a "residence," a term usually understood by lawyers to mean the place where one lives at a given moment. Or it could mean the place one considers a "domicile," where one intends to stay more or less permanently. Or it might mean, informally, a place one thinks of as home, out of loyalty or state pride or property ownership.

Cheney chose last week to declare himself an "inhabitant" of Wyoming by signing up to vote there. That is where an argument might begin: Someone else might define the word differently or question whether Cheney is a Wyoming "inhabitant" - whether or not he is registered to vote there.

Usually, the legal definition of one's home - or place of habitation - is governed by state law. Cheney appeared to be acting under Wyoming state law in moving his registration back there. To be eligible to vote in Wyoming, one must take an oath declaring oneself "a bona fide resident" of that state. The law makes it clear that the would-be voter must be "actually and physically" a Wyoming resident.

Cheney made the switch Friday, one day before the final day for registering to vote in Wyoming's congressional primary Aug. 22.

Though it has been widely understood that he made the switch to get around the Twelfth Amendment, his action had nothing to do with the reason the amendment was added to the Constitution.

The reason was to guarantee that the Electoral College, in casting the final vote to elect a president and vice president, would choose each one separately to avoid a tie vote like the one in 1800.

At that time, members of the Electoral College voted for all candidates for president, with the highest vote-getter elected president and the second-place finisher elected vice president.

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