Mr. Emanuel Returns From Washington: Durational Residence Requirements and Election Litigation


In the heat of the 2011 Chicago mayoral campaign, an appellate court in Illinois ordered the name of front-runner Rahm Emanuel, a former congressman and White House Chief of Staff, stricken from the ballot based on its determination that Emanuel had not been a Chicago resident for the one year preceding election day. The election was thrown into turmoil less than a month before voters were to go to the polls to elect the successor to the long-serving Mayor Richard M. Daley. The decision ignited a firestorm of condemnation that was fueled in part by a vigorous and visceral dissenting opinion as well as the appellate court‘s decision to not certify an appeal. Two days later, the Illinois Supreme Court ended the uproar by reversing the appellate court in Maksym v. Board of Election Commissioners, turning the campaign‘s focus back to the candidates but issuing a legally questionable opinion in the process.

The case of Rahm Emanuel is one of the most high profile examples of candidates who face removal from the ballot based on durational residence requirements, laws specifying that candidates must have been residents of the electoral unit for a length of time before their election. In an era of increasing mobility, durational residence requirements can prove particularly onerous for potential candidates wishing to return ―home‖ in order to run for political office. Moreover, as the story of Maksym amply illustrates, durational residence challenges force courts to resolve a tension between the rule of law and a preference for voter choice in a politically charged atmosphere within a much shorter timeframe than appellate courts traditionally are given to consider difficult questions. By requiring courts to make such difficult choices so quickly, durational residence requirements risk the legitimacy of courts on an issue that arguably should be resolved by the electorate itself.

Part I of this note discusses durational residence requirements, focusing on the elements of durational residence and the policies that animate them. Part II discusses Maksym v. Board of Election Commissioners, the Rahm Emanuel residence case, analyzing and critiquing the opinions of both the appellate court and state supreme court. Part III examines lessons that can be drawn from Maksym, and in particular the difficulties this class of cases poses for courts, the impulse of courts to resolve legal questions in the interest of promoting voter choice, and ways in which a court confronted with a similar issue in the future could deal with it.


Maksym v. Board of Election Commissioners, durational residence requirements, voter choice



Gavin J. Dow (Washington University School of Law)



Publication details



All rights reserved

File Checksums (MD5)

  • pdf: fc87dbe537570ad6478e7ae3a0887ddc