Maurine Karabatsos has been wondering why she hasn’t received her property tax bill.
The answer may lie in a detail of the Teton County assessor candidate’s background that some curious Facebook commenters noticed with suspicion: Her mail goes to an address in Arizona. One questioned how an out-of-stater could commit fully to elected office in Wyoming.
But Karabatsos, a Republican who made it into the general election after a successful write-in campaign, said she simply forgot to change her address and does, in fact, live in Teton County year-round.
“I can promise you I live here full time,” Karabatsos said.
Soon after realizing the mistake, she said, she formally updated her address to the one she has held since moving here permanently in February 2017.
No more than a misunderstanding, it seems. But if a candidate were residing in another state, even part time, what would it mean for their eligibility?
“It’s kind of convoluted,” Teton County Clerk Sherry Daigle said.
When someone files for office they swear an oath that they will be eligible “upon election.” Daigle said local authorities have historically taken this to mean the candidates are eligible when they file, rather than by election day. But the state attorney general’s office begs to differ, arguing for a more literal interpretation.
“It’s a little gray area,” Daigle said, adding that she and representatives of other counties are lobbying the state Legislature to address the ambiguity. “There may be some bills coming … to close up that loophole.”
Either way, elected officials do have to reside in the county (and sometimes town) where they hold office while they hold their positions. But do they have to live there 365 days a year? Can snowbirds flee for the winter?
According to state statutes, they may not be absent from their office for more than 60 days in any three-month period, except in the case of illness or disability, which extends the limit to 90 days.
As for Karabatsos, she remains eligible and will challenge Democratic incumbent Melissa Shinkle in the Nov. 6 general election.
She responded to the Facebook comment, thanking its author and saying she had corrected the “oversight on the system.”
“I am and have been a full-time resident of Teton County,” she wrote, “and am fully committed to its citizens.”