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October 18, 2013

Voter residency bill gains support

BOSTON — Conomo Point residents, other Essex residents and town officials are in agreement on a Conomo Point issue — and it’s coming to light outside of a courtroom setting.

Conomo Point resident Susan Abis and Town Clerk Christina Wright were among those who voiced their support of a bill that would charge the secretary of state with reviewing the current voter residency requirements and making suggestions to clarify any voter residency issues.

The two testified in front of the Joint Committee on Election Laws on Wednesday in Boston during a public hearing at the Statehouse, essentially backing state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr who filed the bill and also serves on the Joint Committee on Election Laws.

At least one other Essex resident offered a written testimony, while a handful of Conomo Point residents appeared at the hearing, along with Wright and a representative from the town’s law firm, Boston-based Kopelman and Paige.

The bill stems from issues surrounding Conomo Point residents and their right to vote in Town Meetings and local elections.

Nearly all of them are seasonal residents and have claimed Essex as their primary residency. But members of the Essex Clean Election Fund raised eligibility concerns in 2011, when they challenged the rights of Conomo Point voters and filed more than 100 residency complaints.

“I respectfully request favorable action on this bill as to ensure preservation of one of the most fundamental tenants of democracy: the right to vote,” Wright said.

She said the Board of Registrars, on which she also serves, has very little precedence or statutory guidance in the voter residency issue. Yet the board must determine if the town where the voter is casting a ballot is the home to the “domestic, social, and civil life” of the voter.

Since she took on the role of town clerk in 2010, Wright said, the Essex Clean Election Fund has brought forth around 120 voter residency complaints, with nearly 50 resulting in hearings.

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