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Will the court disqualify Virginia Sen. Ghazala Hashmi's win? CBS 6's political expert says it's unlikely.

Posted at 4:18 PM, Nov 14, 2023

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Four Chesterfield County voters have asked the Circuit Court to disqualify Virginia State Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D), claiming she does not live within her new district at the address listed on campaign organization documents, according to a petition filed Tuesday morning.

While the petition asks for Hashmi's disqualification, legal and political experts are casting doubt on whether that would actually happen.

In the complaint, the voters said Hashmi was observed more than a dozen times at her home in Midlothian, which is near Salisbury and a few miles outside of the new Senate District 15.

On campaign organization documents, Hashmi listed an apartment at the Boulders in North Chesterfield as her voting address and residence, which is inside District 15, which includes portions of south Richmond but is mostly comprised of Chesterfield County.

Sen. Hashmi defeated Republican challenger Hayden Fisher by 24 percentage points, according to unofficial results.

Ghazala F. Hashmi
Ghazala Hashmi speaks to supporters at a Democratic victory party in Richmond, Va., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Virginia's Constitution requires members of the General Assembly to reside within the district they represent at the time of the election. Since redistricting shifted district lines across the Commonwealth, political experts said candidates from both parties found ways to establish residence in the new district ahead of the election.

The four voters who filed the petition also submitted a complaint with the Chesterfield County Registrar on October 31 and provided documentation that they observed Hashmi's Midlothian home over a period of 19 consecutive days, sometimes multiple times in a day, and spotted two vehicles registered to Hashmi in the driveway, including one with the Senator's official General Assembly tags on it, on 13 of those days.

“We knew she lived there," said Lendy Gay, who along with her husband Ronald were named in the complaint. The couple lives just a few doors down from Hashmi's Midlothian home. “The rules are there for a reason, and you should follow them, and if you don’t follow them, you should be held accountable.”

"Somebody had asked us, ‘oh, she moved.’ I was like well no she hasn’t," Ronald Gay said. “It’s not party affiliation. Anybody that’s breaking the rules, we just need to start following rules more than we do.”

The petition also said Hashmi used the Midlothian address when making political contributions and claims the home was used in promotional images on her campaign website.

"The Petitioners bring this case to ensure that the promise of honest and fair elections in Virginia is properly enforced and that the integrity of elections in the Commonwealth is maintained and voter trust in the system bolstered rather than seriously eroded," the petition read.

"Although brought presumably six months after Senator Hashmi registered, the petitioners do not challenge any procedural defects to Senator Hashmi’s registration but, rather, challenge Senator Hashmi’s residency within the Fifteenth Senate District," it continued.

"Because Senator Hashmi is ineligible to campaign as a candidate for Fifteenth Senate District, Petitioners request that this Court issue a declaration. . . that Senator Hashmi is ineligible to serve in the General Assembly as the Senator representing the Fifteenth District," the petition states.

When asked to comment on the situation, Senator Hashmi's campaign and Senate office said she was not available for an interview. A source close to Hashmi told CBS 6 she does in fact live at the apartment full time, is registered to vote there, and registers her vehicles with that address.

Hashmi posted a message on X, formerly Twitter Tuesday afternoon.

"Leave it to MAGA election deniers to spread lies and throw a tantrum over the outcome of an election. I’m proud the voters have re-elected me so I can keep serving our community, and I am excited to continue delivering results for Virginia families," Hashmi wrote.

Chesterfield Registrar Missy Vera and the State Board of Elections are listed as defendants as well. A Chesterfield County spokesperson declined to comment on the matter: "Chesterfield County does not comment about any legal matters related to pending election challenges.”

Henry Chambers, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said it was likely that many state lawmakers have multiple homes, which is allowed, and that it would require quite a bit of evidence to convince the court that Hashmi does not reside at the apartment she rents.

"If the Senator's position is this is where I live, this is where I pay taxes — or at least I do pay taxes here, this is where I'm registered to vote, all those kinds of things that will be resolved if that's where you live, then my guess is that that's probably going to be the end of it," Chambers said. "From what has been stated on the statement of economic interest, it appears as though she's made the choice that the apartment is the place she considers to be her home. Fine. It's really hard to get around that, unless there's a lot of other evidence that suggests that's not the case."

Dr. Bob Holsworth, a longtime Virginia political analyst, said questions surrounding the residency of candidates from both parties cropped up across the Commonwealth during this most recent campaign.

"What has occurred is that because of the redistricting, we had several cases where candidates either moved, or I might say, kind of move, but they established a residence in the new district, and that's clearly what happened here," Holsworth said. "Going forward, I think it's going to be impossible, given the political situation that has arisen now, for Senator Hashmi to continue to live on a day-to-day basis in Midlothian if that's what she was doing."

The Daily Wire first reported on the residency questions surrounding Hashmi.

In the article, Fisher, the Republican challenger, claimed he should be declared the winner of the race if Hashmi was disqualified.

Holsworth said even if Hashmi was disqualified — a big if in his view — Democrats would still control the chamber 20-19 and would call a special election in the district, which their party won by more than 12,000 votes.

"Democrats still have the majority. They're not going to have a situation where someone automatically becomes the senator, even though they lost the election. That's simply not possible," Holsworth said.

Ronald and Lendy Gay said they have not seen Senator Hashmi or her vehicles at the home since news of their challenge first broke last last week. The couple believe their efforts will be successful, but even if it is not, they said this situation should serve as a reminder for lawmakers of all stripes.

"With local [offices], I think it’s very important to be with the people who voted you in," Ronald said.

"I hope this does discourage other people from doing this," Lendy said.

"Yeah, at least be in the back of their minds that this could happen," Ronald continued.

A court hearing has not been set since the case was filed Tuesday morning.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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