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Eugene lawmaker, running for judge, is subject of elections complaint about his residence

State Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, on the House floor. Wilde has been targeting fellow Democrats for what he says is hypocrisy in his last legislative session.
Dirk VanderHart
State Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, on the floor of the Oregon House.

A Eugene lawmaker who is running for a position as a Lane County Circuit Court judge is the subject of an elections complaint that accuses him of illegally voting in the May primary.

Rep. Marty Wilde, a two-term Democrat, denies the allegations.

The complaint, filed in September by Chelsea Sullivent, a resident of Springfield who has previously worked on other local campaigns, alleges that Wilde cast a vote from an address where he did not live. If true, that would be an apparent violation of state elections law.

According to Wilde’s voter registration records, obtained by KLCC through a public records request, Wilde changed his voter registration to a new address in January. He proceeded to cast a ballot in the primary in May, then re-registered to vote at his original address one week after the primary.

What those voter registration records don’t show, however, is whether or not Wilde actually lived at the temporary address.

Wilde says he did.

“I have always voted from my legal residence,” he said. “I look forward to responding to the complaint in the appropriate venue.”

The address where Wilde registered to vote in January was a two-mile drive from the south Eugene home where Wilde had lived since 2010, according to voter records. The location where voter records say Wilde lived from January until May 2022 is the home of his mother and stepfather.

While that home is also in south Eugene, it was in a different legislative district. For someone currently serving in the legislature, that’s a significant distinction.

During the once-a-decade redistricting process that was finalized in 2021, Wilde vocally criticized his fellow Democrats for creating political boundaries that he said favored their own party, which was in the majority.

After making those comments, Wilde found himself in a district with more Republicans than Democrats. That was a new situation for him, since the previous political boundaries had him in a district that heavily favored Democrats. Wilde did not see a path to winning a third term while living in his home of more than a decade.

But when he changed his voter registration address in January, Wilde placed himself into a House district where Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans. It was seen by some as a strategy to put himself in a better position to win a seat in the legislature during the 2022 election.

In March, Wilde confirmed to OPB that his move was, in part, “a hedge” in case the incumbents representing the area in the House and Senate decided not to run. He also said that while he had registered to vote at that address, he did not actually live there.

As it turned out, both lawmakers in that district, Sen. Floyd Prozanski and Rep. Paul Holvey, filed for another term. Prozanski and Holvey are some of the longest-serving Democrats in Salem, and are each expected to easily win another term in office. Wilde never filed for the May primary, giving up the chance to seek a new legislative seat, as well as another term in his current seat.

And while Wilde’s new address placed him in a different Oregon House and Oregon Senate seat, all other items on his ballot would have been same at either location. Since both Prozanski and Holvey were unopposed in the May primary, a ballot cast by Wilde from that address, legal or not, would have made no difference in any election as compared to a ballot cast from his previous address.

Wilde also said in March that even though he hadn’t moved to the new location, he was planning to, because his parents were aging.

He now says that wasn’t the entire story.

Wilde said in fact, his stepfather, a part of his life since Wilde was in grade school, had been diagnosed with cancer and faced a grim outlook. Wilde said that at the time, he did not want to share his stepfather’s diagnosis publicly.

“I did not expect him to live and did not want my mother to live alone if he passed,” said Wilde, who said his stepfather–who is still living–has given him permission to share the diagnosis with the press.

Wilde’s mother, Mary Leighton–herself a past candidate for public office in Eugene–said her husband’s health deteriorated quickly earlier this year.

“He was failing fast and they didn’t yet know why,” she wrote in an unsolicited email to KLCC.

Leighton said that her son “showed up on the doorstep one night” and asked if he could move in. She said she “instantly and gratefully” accepted the offer.

Over the next few weeks, Leighton said a cancer specialist was able to stabilize her husband’s condition, and treatment commenced.

“The crisis averted, (Marty) moved back to his old address and continued his service to the community and his constituents,” she wrote.

Sullivent said she’s not convinced Wilde actually moved during the four-month period he was registered to vote at his mother and stepfather’s address. She pointed to the fact that Wilde told OPB in March that he hadn’t actually moved.

With her complaint to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, Sullivent submitted correspondence received from Wilde’s campaign for Lane County Circuit Court Judge that uses his original address–that is, the one where he was registered prior to January, and starting again in May. The correspondence was dated during the period that Wilde had re-registered at the other south Eugene address.

Sullivent said the use of that address is more evidence that Wilde didn’t actually move.

“I don’t know 100 percent for sure,” she said. “I can only use what is outlined in those filings as a basis for a suspicion, a hunch, whatever you’d like to call it. And that’s up to the Secretary of State to determine.”

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said the investigation into the complaint is still “open.”

“The initial stage of an investigation involves gathering all the relevant information the Elections Division needs to determine if the case should be referred to the Oregon Department of Justice,” said Ben Morris. “That stage can take a long time to complete, particularly during election season when the Division’s capacity is limited.”

It’s not unusual for elections and ethics complaints to be filed against candidates who are running for office. Few are resolved before Election Day, and many are eventually dismissed.

This isn’t the only complaint leveled at Wilde during his current campaign for Circuit Court Judge. The Eugene Weekly reported that a Lane County attorney filed a complaint with the Oregon Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, alleging that Wilde has been violating the state’s judicial conduct rules during his campaign.

Wilde called the filing “politically motivated,” pointing to the fact that the commission won’t even meet to consider the complaint until after the election, leaving voters to decide for themselves whether or not the complaint is valid.

Wilde himself has been on the other end of the complaint process. Earlier this year, he filed a complaint with the Oregon Department of Justice about Alek Skarlatos, a Republican running for Congress in Oregon’s Fourth Congressional District, which includes Eugene. Wilde alleged that a charity associated with Skarlatos had not properly registered with the state.

In response, the Department of Justice sent an email to Wilde saying that Skarlatos’ charity “has been registered with our office since April of 2021.”

If the Secretary of State’s office decides to refer the case to the Department of Justice, Wilde could potentially face criminal charges.

Voting in an election while “knowing the person is not entitled to vote,” is a Class A misdemeanor, according to Oregon Revised Statute 260.993.

Sullivent, the Springfield woman who filed the complaint, said she’s not working with any candidate this election cycle.

Instead, she said she’s motivated by the desire to see public officials held accountable.

“I firmly believe that we need to hold our elected officials to a higher standard,” she said.

According to state campaign finance records, Sullivent was paid for “management services” by the 2018 state legislative campaign of Kimberly Koops, who narrowly lost to Wilde in the 2018 Democratic primary for the Oregon House seat that Wilde still holds.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the mailed items submitted by Sullivent as part of her elections complaint did not contain dates. The mailed items did contain dates. KLCC regrets the error.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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