Lauren Smith addresses an audience attending the Mississippi Department of Education public comment hearing about proposed revisions to the state's academic standards for social studies, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, at the Mississippi Agricultural Museum in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

TUPELO — A Republican candidate for the state Legislature might have publicly admitted to skirting the state’s election laws by voting in a city where she didn’t actually live, according to her opponent and an election attorney. 

Lauren Smith, a candidate in the GOP primary for Senate District 6 in Lee County, testified before the Mississippi Republican Party Executive Committee in a Feb. 16 hearing that she has lived in the northern Mississippi town of Saltillo since at least 2018.

However, she voted at a Tupelo business address for part of that time. 

“I want to point out that I might have used the address to vote outside of my district, but it was merely a place of convenience,” Smith said. “It was where we had a sawmill, we had our place of business.” 

Her comments surfaced after the district’s incumbent senator, Chad McMahan, attempted to kick her off the primary ballot. In a petition he filed earlier this year, McMahan claimed Smith did not meet the statutory requirements to live within the district at least two years before this year’s November general election. 

As part of his evidence, McMahan and his attorney pointed out that Smith used the Tupelo address, located in a different Senate district, to vote in the 2020 presidential election and the 2022 congressional primary election. Still, Smith, at the hearing, insisted she lived in Saltillo during that time.  

“It was stated in the challenge that I need to prove unequivocally that I had been a resident there since only November of 2021,” Smith said of her Saltillo address. “I took it a step further and went to the steps of proving my residence all the way to 2018 should someone want to see them.” 

Mississippi Today obtained Smith’s voting record from the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office through a public records request. It showed that on Oct. 29, 2020, she moved her voter registration status from Nettleton to Tupelo. 

Those same records show that she voted in two elections with the Tupelo address, and on Oct. 4, 2022, she moved her registration from Tupelo to Saltillo, where she is currently registered.

Despite her Tupelo voting history, the Republican Party’s executive committee, whose sole job was to examine her residency, ultimately sided with Smith, believing she had enough documentation showing she had at least lived at her Saltillo address for two years. 

McMahan did not appeal the committee’s ruling to the state court system, but the executive committee recorded the hearing and submitted it as a public court filing in a separate election challenge. Mississippi Today obtained the video from the court record.

“When I look at the evidence of my opponent and see she’s been voting out of district due to convenience for several years, I’m convinced that she’s committed voter fraud during multiple election cycles,” McMahan told Mississippi Today. 

Smith adamantly rejects the allegation that she’s committed voter fraud or violated any of the state’s election laws, though she does not dispute she voted under the Tupelo address while she lived in Saltillo. 

“I committed no fraud, and I committed no crime,” Smith told Mississippi Today, adding that she believes the allegations against her are a “headhunt” from McMahan.

State law requires Mississippians to register to vote in the precinct of where they live, and section 97-13-35 of the Mississippi Code states anyone “who shall vote out of the district of his legal domicile” shall, upon conviction, be imprisoned in the county jail for no more than one year or be fined no more than $1,000, or both.

Sam Begley is a Jackson-based attorney who has represented dozens of candidates in elections challenges for several years. He told Mississippi Today that state law clearly states voters are required to register using their home address.

“She’s claiming her legal domicile is that Senate district she’s running in, but she’s voted outside of that legal domicile,” Begley said. “That appears to be a clear violation of 97-13-35.” 

Several prosecuting agencies could, in theory, probe if Smith potentially violated a statute, but the most direct way for an investigation to commence is for McMahan or another witness to her February comments to file an affidavit in justice court or county court, which they haven’t done. 

The primary election between Smith and McMahan will take place on Aug. 8. 

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Taylor, a native of Grenada, covers state government and statewide elections. He is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and Holmes Community College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Taylor reported on state and local government for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, where he received an award for his coverage of the federal government’s lawsuit against the state’s mental health system.