Mark Meadows, who grew up in Florida, moved to North Carolina in the nineteen-eighties and opened Aunt D’s, a sandwich shop in Highlands. He later sold the restaurant and started a real-estate company with a line in vacation properties. (He showed a few to my parents, in the nineties.) He became active in local Republican politics, and, in 2012, ran for Congress and won, going on to represent North Carolina’s Eleventh District until March, 2020, when he resigned the seat to become President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Earlier that month, he sold his twenty-two-hundred-square-foot home in Sapphire. He and his wife, Debbie, also had a condo in Virginia, near Washington, D.C. But, as the summer passed and the election neared, Meadows had not yet purchased a new residence in what had been his home state. On September 19th, about three weeks before North Carolina’s voter-registration deadline for the general election, Meadows filed his paperwork. On a line that asked for his residential address—“where you physically live,” the form instructs—Meadows wrote down the address of a fourteen-by-sixty-two-foot mobile home in Scaly Mountain. He listed his move-in date for this address as the following day, September 20th.
Meadows does not own this property and never has. It is not clear that he has ever spent a single night there. (He did not respond to a request for comment.) The previous owner, who asked that we not use her name, now lives in Florida. “That was just a summer home,” she told me, when I called her up the other day. She seemed surprised to learn that the residence was listed on the Meadowses’ forms. The property sits in the southern Appalachian mountains, at about four thousand feet, in the bend of a quiet road above a creek in Macon County. She and her husband bought it in 1985. “We’d come up there for three to four months when my husband was living,” she said. Her husband died several years ago, and the house sat mostly unused for some time afterward, she said, because she had “nobody to go up there with anymore.”
She only rented it out twice, she told me. The first renter, she said, was Debbie Meadows, who, according to the former owner, reserved the house for two months at some point within the past few years—she couldn’t remember exactly when—but only spent one or two nights there. The Meadowses’ kids had visited the place, too, she said. The former owner was in Florida at the time, but her neighbors, the Talleys, whom she described as friends of the Meadowses’, debriefed her later. As for Mark Meadows, she said, “He did not come. He’s never spent a night in there.”
The former owner had put the mobile home on the market in the summer of 2020, but the Meadowses never expressed an interest in buying it, she said. The one other time she rented the place out, it was to someone who had: a retail manager at Lowe’s named Ken Abele, who bought the mobile home in August of the following year. Abele said that he’d heard that the Meadows family stayed there in the fall of 2020, when they were in the area for a Trump rally, because nearby hotels were scarce. The realtor who facilitated his purchase, whom I was unable to reach before we went to press, told him this, he said, and the realtor had heard it from the Talleys. It struck him as odd. “I’ve made a lot of improvements,” Abele said, of the mobile home. “But when I got it, it was not the kind of place you’d think the chief of staff of the President would be staying.” I asked him what he made of Meadows listing the property as his place of residence on his voter-registration form. “That’s weird that he would do that,” he said. “Really weird.”
The Talleys live in a white clapboard farmhouse that sits a few hundred yards from Abele’s mobile home. Last week, I dropped by to ask them about all this. Tammy Talley opened the door, and I identified myself.
“Mr. Journalist,” she said with a sigh. “God help us all.”
We spoke for about ten minutes, during which time Talley was never less than genial while seeming to suggest that I was a liar or at the very least had devious intentions. “I have a great distrust for media,” she explained. “I was a Trump supporter and—fake news to the hilt, communism in America, snakes in the grass, the whole nine yards. I am not charmed by the press at all.” I noted that I was a real person, not a fake one. “I see that you’re a real person, and that’s great,” she said. “But the fake news is full of real people with real communist agendas.”
She pointed to her cat, who was staring up at me from her porch steps. The cat, she said, was named Tricki Woo, after a Pekingese that appeared in a show called “All Creatures Great and Small,” which she urged me to watch.
We got to talking about conspiracy theories. “They said Noah was a conspiracy theorist until it started raining,” she said, attributing the quip to “that little Dr. Zelenko,” who helped popularize the antimalarial medication hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus.
I steered the conversation back to Meadows. Talley said that she was friends with Mark and Debbie and that, a few years ago, Debbie had stayed at the mobile home down the road, and their kids had visited, too. (The Meadowses have two adult children.) I said that I’d recently learned that Mark and Debbie linked their voter registration to the mobile home. Was Talley sure that Debbie and the kids had stayed there?
“I know they stayed there because I had them here to my house from time to time,” Talley said. “They were legitimately there. And, yes, they legitimately voted in the legitimate election.”
Slightly thrown by the pronoun, I said, “ ‘They’ being .
. . ?”
“Debbie,” she said. “I don’t know what her children did.” She gave me her phone number before I drove off in case I wanted to follow up about a kitten.
After Trump lost the election, Meadows was one of the most influential Republicans claiming without factual evidence that widespread voter fraud had taken place. (He reiterated those claims in a recent memoir.) In late 2020 and early 2021, he e-mailed the Justice Department, urging it to investigate claims of voter fraud, including claims that courts had previously rejected.
Did Meadows potentially commit voter fraud by listing the Scaly Mountain address on his registration form? It’s a federal crime to provide false information to register to vote in a federal election. Under President Trump, the White House Web site posted a document, produced by the conservative Heritage Foundation, intended to present a “sampling” of the “long and unfortunate history of election fraud” in the U.S. Many of the cases sampled involve people who registered to vote at false addresses, including, for instance, second homes that did not serve as a person’s primary residence.
I called Melanie D. Thibault, the director of Macon County’s Board of Elections, and asked her what she made of the Meadowses’ registration forms. “I’m kind of dumbfounded, to be honest with you,” she said, after perusing them. “I looked up this Mcconnell Road, which is in Scaly Mountain, and I found out that it was a dive trailer in the middle of nowhere, which I do not see him or his wife staying in.” (It is not technically a trailer, but it is a modest dwelling.) She said that their registrations had arrived by mail and were entered into the system, and that a voter-registration card was sent to a P.O. Box they’d provided as their mailing address. “If that card makes it to the voter and it’s not sent back undeliverable, then the voter goes onto the system as a good voter,” she said. Meadows had voted absentee, by mail, in the 2020 general election, she added.
“The state board tells us we’re not the police,” she went on. “It’s up to the voter to give us the information.” A candidate or voter can challenge another voter’s address, she explained, but the burden of proof, at least at the outset, rests with the challenger. In this case, then, Meadows wouldn’t need, initially, to prove that he had listed a true place of residence—the challenger would need to prove that Meadows hadn’t. These challenges can be tough to win and are not frequently brought.
One of the authors of North Carolina’s voter-challenge statute is Gerry Cohen, who wrote it during his time as a staff attorney for the state’s General Assembly. He’s now on the Wake County Board of Elections; he teaches public policy at Duke. Cohen told me that, legally speaking, you can have more than one residence but only one domicile, and that your voter registration must be linked to the domicile. For something to qualify as such, he said, it must be a “place of abode” where you have spent at least one night and where you intend to remain indefinitely—“or at least without a present intent to establish a domicile at some other place.” (Elected officials who move—to D.C., for example—are allowed to remain registered in their home county or state as long as they don’t register to vote in the new location.)
I asked Cohen about the mobile home. “If Debra Meadows stayed there a single night, and Mark Meadows didn’t stay there, then he didn’t meet the abode test,” Cohen said. What if Meadows had stayed there, I asked? How would he establish that he intended to live there for an indefinite period of time? There isn’t a single determinative test, Cohen said, but a driver’s license, cable bill, W-2, or car registration listing the address would each suffice. “It’s a question of intent and evidence,” he added. I called the previous owner again, and asked her whether the Meadows family might have received any mail there. “It didn’t even have a mailbox,” she said. Abele has since installed one. He told me that he has never received any mail for the Meadows family at his home.
Why would Meadows risk committing voter fraud by listing as his domicile the address of a mobile home where he seems never to have slept? At the time, there was speculation that he might run for the Senate seat that the North Carolina Republican Richard Burr will vacate later this year; it may have struck him as important, politically, to keep voting in the state. Meadows owns two undeveloped parcels of land in Transylvania County, through an L.L.C., but neither could be described as a legal residence. Perhaps the Scaly Mountain mobile home, which was owned by someone who lived in another state and which sat just down the road from friends of the Meadows family, offered a last-minute fix. (Meadows ultimately decided not to run for Burr’s seat.)
Cohen pointed out to me another problem with the registration, also connected to the address: you can’t claim to live somewhere that you haven’t moved to yet, and Meadows listed his move-in date as the day after he signed and dated the form. In theory, this could invalidate the registration, Cohen said, but it happens fairly often, he added—many voters mix up their dates on registration forms or predate a planned relocation—and local officials usually look past it. Some mistakes seem to be taken more seriously than others: a Black woman in Wake County who voted while on probation in 2016 was arrested three years later and faced possible prison time if convicted.
This would not be the first time that Meadows seemed to mislead the public on the matters of his credentials or his real-estate holdings. For a long time, news outlets, apparently relying on his official House biography, reported that Meadows had earned a B.A. from the University of South Florida, though he actually received an associate’s degree. And Meadows appears to have violated congressional ethics guidelines by not disclosing his ownership of a hundred and thirty-four acres in Dinosaur, Colorado, which he ultimately sold to a nonprofit that aimed to use dinosaur bones in an effort to prove the literal truth of the creation story in the Book of Genesis.
In January, 2021, Meadows took a job with the Conservative Partnership Institute, a nonprofit founded by the former South Carolina senator—and former president of the Heritage Foundation—Jim DeMint. “No group has played a more critical role in helping conservatives stay true to their principles in the hostile Washington swamp,” Meadows said at the time. In July of that year, less than a month after the House voted to form a select committee to investigate the January 6th attack on the Capitol building, Donald Trump’s Save America PAC donated a million dollars to the institute. “The contribution to Meadows’s nonprofit stands out both for its size and for its timing,” NBC noted. A few months later, Mark and Debbie Meadows purchased a $1.6-million-dollar lakefront estate in Sunset, South Carolina. According to Thibault, the director of the Macon County Board of Elections, their voter registration remains linked to the Scaly Mountain mobile home.