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February 22, 2013

New bill targets Conomo voting

ESSEX — A year after voting questions produced a series of contentious hearings — and changes to the town’s voting rolls —state Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante are now pushing a bill aimed at clarifying full-time residency and its related voter eligibility.

The study aims to make voter eligibility requirements clear, easily understandable and enforceable to avoid further confusion of whom is able to vote at a town meeting or in a local, state or general election.

Town Clerk Christina Wright notes there are no case precedents and few guidelines under state law when it comes to voter registration and seasonal residents.

Wright noted that, according to current state mandates, one must simply explain that where you vote is where your civic, social and domestic life is; not where you physically live throughout the year. Furthermore, there are no state guidelines about seasonal voters and how long they must live in the state to be eligible to vote, unlike when people file for tax returns.

If another voter disputes a claim of residency, the Board of Registrars examines the two sides of the argument and makes a formal decision. The issue took center stage in Essex in 2011 after a group of residents calling themselves the Essex Clean Election Fund challenged more than 100 Essex voters – nearly all of them seasonal residents at Conomo Point — and identified more than two dozen whose names were taken off the rolls, with some having been registered in two places.

”My hope is the Sectary of State would spend some time looking at this and see if there are ways to make the system work better,” Tarr said in a phone interview Thursday.

Tarr said the need for these types of hearings may still exist, but they require a lot of time and resources from the town and residents; the current layout can be problematic.

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