ESSEX — Town officials have confirmed that Stephen Hartley, the deputy shellfish constable for Essex, is not the same Stephen Hartley who voted in Venice, Fla., the week before the Essex Fall Town Meeting last November.
But documents also show that the home Hartley co-owns with his wife and sister in Sarasota, Fla., carries a homestead exemption in that state. And homestead exemptions bring large tax breaks, as well as legal protections, which are only allowed on primary residences, according to Florida law.
The homestead exemption has made Hartley a target of the Essex Clean Elections Fund, since a person can only vote in the municipality where his or her primary residence is located.
An initial search of voting data in FL uncovered a Stephen Hartley who voted in the same county in which the Essex Hartley has a home. But further investigation by the town and by the Times has that the two were different people, and that the Essex Hartley is not a registered Sarasota voter.
The question over whether Hartley is eligible to vote in Essex, based on the status of his "primary residence," is still open.
For more on this story, look to tomorrow's print and online editions of the Gloucester Daily Times and gloucestertimes.com.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.