Despite Republican Nicole Wittmann showing no evidence whatsoever of being domiciled in Loudoun County on the day that she changed her voter registration there and filed her candidacy to run for election in the recently-vacated Commonwealth’s Attorney position, retired Prince William County Judge Richard Potter found a “preponderance of evidence” that she was domiciled there and dismissed the petition to have her voter registration found invalid and her name removed from the ballot. Although she made a strong case for her intention to move to Loudoun once she had filed to run, putting her house on the market and moving one of the kids to a new school, there was no evidence that at the time that she changed her voter registration, she had in fact moved there or lived there. As the petitioner’s attorney said, “we will happily concede that Ms. Wittmann is qualified to register today in Loudoun County.”
In early February 2019, Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman announced he was seeking a judgeship and would not be running for re-election. His chief deputy, Nicole Wittmann, decided immediately to run for the seat, despite the fact that she was not a resident of Loudoun, but rather lived in Herndon (Fairfax County). On February 21, 2019, she changed her voter registration to an address in Loudoun County–a townhouse owned by one of her deputies, Alex Rueda. According to the Virginia Code, residence for the purposes of voter registration requires “both domicile and a place of abode. To establish domicile, a person must live in a particular locality with the intention to remain. A place of abode is the physical place where a person dwells.” Today’s hearing, a petition brought to court by four registered Loudoun County voters, was to determine whether Ms. Wittmann was qualified to register to vote in Loudoun County–and if not, to invalidate both her registration, and hence her candidacy for office.
These facts were presented in court:
- The lease agreement between Ms. Wittmann and her deputy, Alex Rueda was back-dated February 1st, several days before the incumbent announced he was seeking a judgeship, vacating his seat, and before Ms. Wittmann and Ms. Rueda testified they discussed Ms. Wittmann running for the seat. Both testified that they did not, in fact, sign the lease on February 1st as it was dated.
- The only two dates that either/both Ms. Wittmann and Ms. Rueda definitively recalled Ms. Wittmann actually spending the night at the Loudoun house were in July, when Ms. Rueda had surgery, and in June, when Ms. Rueda was out of town for a training.
- Both were asked repeatedly how often Ms. Wittmann stayed overnight there, how many times she stayed for consecutive nights, and neither could give any definite answer. Ms. Rueda sniped “I wasn’t keeping a log, wasn’t expecting to be sued or stalked.”
- Cell phone location records (which only pinpoint the longitude and latitude coordinates associated with files accessed from the phone, sometimes causing mistaken records) show countless records in the vicinity of the Herndon house (including Waze records connected to the Herndon address), and only TWO records associated with the Loudoun house–one on the day both testified Ms. Wittmann dropped off the single “rent” check she paid (which was cashed March 13th); and the second time in April.
- Ms. Wittmann testified to countless reasons why she couldn’t be at the Loudoun residence–her husband works until very late and she needs to take her sons to sports events and be home for them after school, her husband is often out of town with the National Guard and with work, they put the house up for sale and she needed to get the house ready, she had to care for an elderly mother in a nursing home, she had to care for a godfather in an assisted living facility. While these are all valid reasons to be in Herndon, they clearly reflect that the center of her life continued to be Herndon, until she and her family moved in August.
- Ms. Wittmann didn’t present a single receipt showing her eating, getting gas, getting her clothes dry cleaned, etc. near the Loudoun address.
- There was also no evidence that she had stopped living (abandoned, in legal terms) the Herndon house. The realtor who put the house on the market couldn’t identify anything that would indicate that she had moved out.
- Ms. Wittmann, who as the petitioners’ lawyer noted, is running for office and would want to meet and talk to every Loudoun County voter she came across, including her “neighbors,” did not present one single witness who testified to ever seeing her at the Loudoun County address.
In short, Ms. Wittmann gave no indication that she was living in Loudoun County on February 21, when she changed her voter registration to Loudoun. Intending to move to Loudoun is all well and good, but it is not a substitute for actually living there when you say you live there. This is such a very low bar for running for public office–you just have to actually live in the community you intend to serve, have to be able to cast a vote in the race you’re running in. And because the Judge seemed to incorrectly focus his attention only on the “intent” aspect of residency, even this low bar isn’t met by Ms. Wittmann.