Erlin Taylor, owner of a Portland-area property management company, registered to vote in Bend for the first time on a Wednesday (August 3) and filed papers to run for city council the next Monday (August 8). She has never voted in Bend or Deschutes County, but she does own a condo in Northwest Crossing.
Now, this might be forgetfulness or a paperwork oversight, but the voter registration data also shows that she updated her registration earlier this year (March 25) from one address in Lake Oswego to another address in Lake Oswego. You probably wouldn’t do that if you lived in Bend.
This might be something you’d expect from a gadfly or novice except for who else is involved with the campaign. Her campaign finance papers show Rebecca Tweed has a role. Tweed is a Republican political strategist out of Portland who once helped run Knute Buehler’s statewide campaigns and the organization Oregonians for Medical Freedom pushing against vaccine requirements before the covid pandemic.
What are the rules?
Bend’s charter says a candidate must be a qualified elector and reside within city limits during the 12 months immediately before being elected.
When a candidate files to run for office, they must attest that they are qualified. City council candidates file with the City Recorder’s office, who is charged with verifying qualifications. Catch is, the office is not empowered to investigate beyond simple checks. Is the candidate registered to vote here right now? Check. Can they show something like a property record in Bend? Check.
Per the City Recorder’s office, Taylor showed current voter registration and a mortgage for a condo in Bend. A week earlier and that voter registration wouldn’t have sufficed.
A full voter profile for Erlin Taylor obtained from the Deschutes County Clerk’s office via public records request shows voting habits – Taylor typically only votes in November general elections, not primaries or local elections. But it also shows every change made to her address and reveals that she has never been registered to vote in Bend until three business days before filing to potentially become the city’s next councilor in Position 4.
Didn’t we just do this with Nick Kristof?
Yes, Nick Kristof was disqualified earlier this year from running for governor based on residency rules. The Secretary of State’s office issued a strong statement on what residency signifies in their decision:
“When determining residency for elections purposes, the place where a person votes is particularly powerful, because voting is the center of engaged citizenship.”
In Kristof’s case, voter registration was a strong deciding factor, but not the only one. Oregon Revised Statutes provide several tests for residency in different places. For example:
An elections official may consider, but is not limited to considering, the following factors in determining residency of a person for voter registration purposes:
- Where the person receives personal mail;
- Where the person is licensed to drive;
- Where the person registers motor vehicles for personal use;
- Where any immediate family members of the person reside;
- The address from which the person pays for utility services; and
- The address from which the person files any federal or state income tax returns.
State officials also considered where Nick Kristof conducts the bulk of his business and statements made by him identifying with a place.
Of course, the Kristof example isn’t strictly the same as Taylor’s case. But many of the same tests can be applied.
Taylor’s business is not based in Bend. It is registered in Oregon City. The annual filing is signed by Erlin Taylor in Oregon City. It is promoted on the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce website as being “locally owned and operated”. A YouTube video posted January of this year features Erlin Taylor speaking and is titled, “Get to Know Illume Property Management Company in Portland, Oregon”.
Her volunteering is also based in the Portland area. The biography on her campaign website lists organizations she has been “involved” with: “Sunshine Food Division [Portland], Good Neighbor Center [Tigard], Adopt a Family, Habitat for Humanity, Humane Society and more.” The location of each of the last three are unspecified, as is the extent of any involvement. No mention of board or executive membership was found for any of the listed organizations.
The address on her drivers license, vehicle registration, and where she gets mail or pays taxes is not public. However, we do have another hint at where she gets mail: the reason for the March 25th voter registration update was noted as NCOA or National Change of Address. That indicates she was still receiving mail in Lake Oswego as of this year.
Per ORS 247.292, voter registration is only updated by NCOA when the new address is reported by the voter to be their current residential address. The voter is then notified of the update by postcard and asked to correct any errors.
There may be arguments against each of these examples being disqualifying individually, but taken altogether they point toward a lack of that “engaged citizenship” the Secretary of State’s office was looking for in Nick Kristof.
An older case in Bend provides a contrast
In 2014 Casey Roats ran afoul of residency requirements. He was living at his parents house just outside city limits while his new house inside city limits was still under construction. While strictly a violation of the rule, city council voted 5-2 in favor of seating Roats after he won the election anyway.
Roats provides a contrast to Taylor. Roats had been highly engaged in the Bend community prior to running for city council: from interning with Representative Greg Walden to managing his family’s local water company and the many community relationships that go with it. When he pleaded for intent to triumph over the strict rule, his engaged citizenship buttressed his case (albeit with a friendly, conservative council).
If Erlin Taylor has substantially engaged the civic arena in Bend before this month, she has done it in an exceedingly modest fashion as there is no outward evidence of it.
What happens next?
Nothing – unless there is a complaint from the public. City staff are responsible for vetting candidate residency, but are not empowered to go further than those quick checks. A formal complaint would be needed to initiate any further review. That complaint would then be adjudicated by city council.
That said, all candidates that facially met the requirements have already been referred to the County Clerk to appear on the November ballot. There is then a very narrow window where a name can be pulled before ballots are printed. That window has passed. Ballots go in the mail September 24th for overseas voters. Any changes to the ballot now would require a court order or significant costs.
Taylor will almost certainly appear on the ballot.
If she loses the election and her residency is successfully challenged, she may be subject to mild fines depending on the nature of the complaint and any findings.
If she wins, though, and council determines that she does not meet residency requirements, she will not be seated as a councilor and Position 4 on the council will be considered vacant. Council may then initiate an appointment process to fill the vacancy, just like they did when Rita Schenkelberg resigned.
In either event, it would very likely be the current city councilors deciding on all of this if a challenge is made. The Roats case was decided on December 3rd following the November election. New councilors are not sworn in until January.
Voter preferences at the ballot box are sure to weigh heavily on any potential decision by council. Will voters care that Taylor has little experience in Bend before asking to become a councilor? Perhaps not, if they get the chance to know her.
Unfortunately, per a list of attendees circulated by the Bend Chamber, Taylor is reportedly planning to send a surrogate to tonight’s candidate forum. She has not yet appeared as a candidate in a public event.
Election Day is 50 days away.