ATLANTA — Republican Herschel Walker is claiming a tax exemption on a Texas home despite running for office and registering to vote in Georgia – potentially running afoul of tax and residency requirements in the states.
Taxing authorities in Tarrant County, Texas, told 11Alive that they plan to ask the former football star if the house is still his primary residence, a condition required by the state to receive a homestead exemption. The break could be terminated, and Walker could be asked to repay the difference this year.
The exemption, reported by CNN and also reported by 11Alive in 2021, has also raised questions about Walker's Georgia residency. Walker registered to vote in Fulton County in August 2021, using the address of his wife's home.
It's unclear how Walker met voting requirements in Fulton County. However, state residency laws are flexible. Georgia has 15 rules, not all of which have to be met, which are used to determine if someone can vote or run for office. The U.S. Constitution only requires a senator to be an "inhabitant" of the state when elected.
Fulton County election officials were unable to tell 11Alive which residency requirements Walker met.
Anthony Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University who specializes in constitutional law and American political development, said the problems Walker faces tied to the exemption are political rather than legal as potential voters question his ties to the state.
Kreis compared Walker's situation to Republican Mehmet Oz, whose ties to New Jersey were a common point of attack as he unsuccessfully ran for Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seat.
"(Walker's) much more likely to be running afoul of Texas law ... than he would be found noncompliant with Georgia residency requirements," Kreis said.
The Texas tax exemption and Walker's candidacy
Officials at the Tarrant County Tax Assessor's Office told 11Alive that Walker has claimed a homestead exemption on his multi-million dollar Westlake, Texas, home since 2012.
The exemption saved Walker roughly $1,500 this year, but it was filed after the Republican registered to vote in Georgia and announced he was running for U.S. Senate.
Under Texas homestead exemption requirements, the house must be used by the homeowner as their principal residence on Jan. 1 of the tax year. Homeowners can keep the exemption if they temporarily move away. They must meet these three conditions:
- They don't establish a principal residence elsewhere
- They intend to return to the home
- They are away less than two years
Jeff Law, the chief appraiser of the Tarrant Appraisal District, told 11Alive that the government agency will ask Walker if the Westlake home is still his primary residence. The agency could also check Walker's license to see if it matches the home's address.
The Tarrant Appraisal District oversees the county's property tax appraisal and exemption administration.
"Texas law says that his driver's license has to have on it the same address as the home that he is claiming as his principal residency," Law said.
Law added that registering to vote in Georgia is an "indicator" that Walker may no longer be a Texas resident.
Walker's campaign did not respond to questions from 11Alive about his driver's license.
Election records maintained by the Georgia Secretary of State's office show that Walker registered to vote in Fulton County on Aug. 17, 2021. He listed his address as a Buckhead home owned by his wife Julie Blanchard.
State election officials investigated allegations that Blanchard illegally voted in Georgia during the 2020 presidential election while the couple lived in Texas. At the time, Walker was a registered voter in Texas. Data from the Texas Secretary of State shows Walker registered to vote there on Oct.8, 2020.
Fulton County records show that Blanchard does not claim a homestead exemption on the home. Investigators found that Blanchard did not violate Georgia law.
To date, no such investigation has been launched into Walker's residency, a Secretary of State spokesperson told 11Alive.
However, a Georgia resident sent a letter to the GBI and the Georgia Attorney General's Office accusing Walker of committing voter fraud. The state Attorney General's Office turned the letter over to the State Election Board. The Georgia Attorney General's Office provided 11Alive with a copy of the letter.
“The Georgia Bureau of Investigations and the Georgia Attorney General’s Office must immediately investigate whether Herschel Walker lied about being a Georgia resident," Georgia Democratic Party Chair and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams said in response to the letter. "Georgians deserve answers, and Walker must be held accountable for his pattern of lies and disturbing conduct. This is yet another reminder that Walker lacks both the competence and character to be our U.S. Senator.”
Georgia law outlines 15 factors used to determine a person's residency, ranging from a person's marital status to business pursuits and employment.
Last week, 11Alive sent questions and an open records request to the Fulton County elections board regarding Walker's voter registration application.
Fulton County spokesperson Regina Waller was unable to answer questions that focused on what voter eligibility factors Walker met.
Walker is set to face incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock in a Dec. 6 runoff to determine who will represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. Neither candidate hit the 50% plus 1 vote threshold to win the race outright earlier this month.