A Texas Democratic House candidate voted as recently as last year using her parents' Dallas address while she was living and working in California.
Helane "Lulu" Sawsan Seikaly, who is challenging Republican incumbent Van Taylor in Texas's Third Congressional District, worked in California until at least last year as an attorney for a Sacramento-based law firm and as a professor at the University of California Davis. Using an address linked to her parents, however, Seikaly voted in Texas in both 2016 and 2018, public records show.
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A couple of weeks after filing to run for the House last December, Seikaly switched her registration from Dallas to Collin County, Texas.
Seikaly, who is casting herself as somebody who "understands the challenges facing North Texans," has downplayed her recent residency in California. She makes no mention of it on her campaign website. But her work history, including for a law firm that boasts "deep roots in California," raises questions as to why she continued to vote in Texas rather than in the Golden State, and the perception that Seikaly returned to Texas only to launch a congressional bid could prove a stumbling block on the campaign trail.
Asked to describe her "length of residency in Texas" in a Dallas Morning News questionnaire earlier this year, Seikaly did not mention that she lived and worked in California until recently.
"My parents came to North Texas in the late 80s when I was a year old. It's been home ever since," she wrote in the questionnaire.
Seikaly was admitted into the California bar on June 2, 2014, according to the association's website, and is still listed as an active attorney in the state. She is also a member of Phi Delta Phi, an international legal society, and her membership record with the organization lists her as a resident of Roseville, Calif.
Seikaly worked as an employment lawyer at the Sacramento-based Churchwell White LLP from January 2015 to March 2020, according to her LinkedIn page. Churchwell White describes itself as "a law firm with deep roots in California."
"We focus on results, while providing exceptional client service and helping our clients navigate across complexities that are unique to California," the company's website says.
The firm's clients include some California municipal governments, and its lawyers have served as city attorneys. Seikaly was introduced as the "deputy city attorney" of Atwater, Calif., during a Jan. 14, 2019, city council meeting, according to minutes from the proceeding.
An election watchdog criticized out-of-state voting as a violation of the "spirit" of voting laws. "It's sort of the rule of law versus the spirit of law," said Catherine Engelbrecht, the founder of True the Vote, an election fraud monitoring group based in Houston. "The idea is to be heard through the voice of your vote in your community. So if your community is California, that's really where the power of your vote should be heard."
Although the Texas third district has been reliably Republican and is expected to remain so this election, a recent poll commissioned by Seikaly's campaign found her trailing the GOP incumbent, Taylor, by just 1 point. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also added the race to its battleground target list, according to National Journal.
Voting in Texas is limited to residents of the state, but Texas has some of the most liberal residency requirements in the country. Texans are allowed to maintain their residency even if they move out of the state, as long as they are moving "for temporary purposes only" and the person "intends to return after any temporary absence," according to the state's election code.
Seikaly's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Her campaign website says she was raised in Texas, attended Southern Methodist University and South Texas College of Law, and currently "lives in Plano, Texas, the community where her husband, Daniel, grew up, and where her in-laws live."
Seikaly also worked as an adjunct professor at the University of California Davis School of Law from August 2017 to May 2019, according to her LinkedIn page. On her campaign website, Seikaly said she worked "as an attorney working with cities" but did not mention that this was in California.
Seikaly and her husband are associated with two addresses in Roseville, Calif., and her husband is currently registered to vote in Placer County, Calif., according to state records.
Engelbrecht said out-of-state voting is a problem in many states, not just Texas, but the chances of someone facing legal repercussions for it are "very slim."
"I think Texas has a certain slipperiness to the language of the code as it speaks to this piece of it. But by no means are we unique," said Engelbrecht. "You look at any state and you're going to find problems that just come with the territory, one way or the other, as it relates to keeping good, clean voter rolls."
Donna Garcia Davidson, a lawyer specializing in campaign finance who previously served as general counsel for the Republican Party of Texas, said the issue is "not easily litigated. Most people understand that residency is a difficult challenge."
"For an individual to vote in Texas, that individual has to have the ability to show that their residence is in Texas. Property ownership, a family home, and other factors help to show residence," Davidson said. "If a voter can show they are only temporarily absent, they are qualified to vote."