After challenging the voter residency of 114 Conomo Point residents last year, removing 23 from the rolls and leaving 60 in question, the Essex Clean Elections Fund left the task of cleaning the rest of the voting lists to town registrars.
Now, the leader behind the group filed a formal complaint with Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, alleging the registrars failed to do just that.
Clifford Ageloff filed the complaint with the help of West Roxbury lawyer William McDermott Jr. Ageloff has headed up the Essex Clean Elections Fund, a group of concerned Essex residents that have questioned the credibility of Essex's Town Meeting and election votes due to questions over the eligibility of voters, notably part-time residents who live at Conomo Point.
Ageloff said Thursday morning the town hasn't taken any action on removing seasonal residents from the voter rolls since the initial probe was suspended last fall.
State law, he said, doesn't allow seasonal residents who live elsewhere to pick a house they live in seasonally as their primary residence to register and vote in local elections and town meetings. A primary residence, he said — and as state and local officials confirmed last fall — is based on which community is focus of a person's life — and, in most states, from where a resident pays federal and state taxes. The town checks residency every January.
"(In other towns) there is a tacit understanding that voting is for permanent residents," Ageloff said.
Town Clerk and Registrar Christina Wright said that challenging voter registration isn't as simple as the street listing status. Wright said the town has very little case law or state guidelines to go on, adding that the town can't reject someone's voting application simply because they're not in Essex during the winter months.
Residency, she said, is determined as where the center of someone's civic, domestic, and social life is. Physical presence on Jan. 1, she said, isn't part of the voting statute.
"We're kind of forerunners as a municipality dealing with part-time residents being residents for voting purposes," Wright said.
Ageloff and his citizens' group began their challenge last year, he said, when they noticed that some residents in the town-leased properties on Conomo Point were voting both in Essex and in their home towns. The group also challenged residents who voted in Essex, but had their primary residence in another town as well.
The challenge led to a series of voter residency hearings in September that took up 83 of the 114 seasonal residents the Essex Clean Elections Fund put to the Board of Registrars, headed by Wright. Some of the names weren't taken up for several reasons, including insufficient evidence provided by the fund.
After the registrars struck 23 names from the rolls in two days of hearings, Ageloff and the fund withdrew their complaint, saying that they proved their point.
Two weeks ago, Ageloff filed a formal complaint with the Secretary Galvin's office, with an attorney, McDermott, funded through citizen donations. The complaint alleges that Wright and the registrars failed to uphold the standards for qualifying voters by allowing part-time residents to vote in local elections.
"Seasonal-use occupancy-restricted dwellings are routinely recognized as residences for voting purposes by the registrar and the board of registrars," his complaint states.
Ageloff said coastal towns, other than Essex, don't consider non-residents voters. Much of Cape Cod, he said, works that way, he said, with summer residents forming taxpayer associations to get their complaints across, though they can't vote in local elections. The Jan. 1 resident count, that towns do each year, is the way most coastal communities qualify voters.
"You can't call a place home," he said. "It actually has to be your home."
The seasonal residences on Conomo Point, he added, don't qualify.
Even so, said Wright, the town doesn't have much in the way of legal guidance regarding voter residency. She said the town's going to respect all voters' civil rights. She added that she hasn't seen another coastal community that flat out denies summer residents the ability to vote in local elections. Residents of Long Beach in Rockport are allowed to vote in local elections, she added.
There isn't anything in the law, she said, about how long one has to be a resident before registering, or that they have to be physically present on a certain time.
"We cannot reject an affidavit of voter registration simply because that person cannot be here during that period of time," she said.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.