, Gloucester, MA

March 28, 2013

Editorial: Latest voting case renews questions Essex must answer

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — By all counts, the Essex Board of Registrars had an easy choice in whether to honor Erica Durie’s request to have her name included on the town’s voting rolls.

Durie, after all, failed to respond to mailings by the town to the Conomo Point address she was trying to pawn off as her primary residence for voting purposes — including the notice that Town Clerk Christina Wright had sent to notify her of Monday’s meeting to discuss her potential eligibility.

But Durie’s request and this latest voting challenge — especially as it applies to the part-time residents of Conomo Point — also renews the question as to what Essex officials are doing to ensure that, when their Annual Town Meeting rolls around May 6, all of those trying to vote are in fact eligible to do so. For with 11 Town Meeting articles dealing directly with Conomo Point issues (see news story, Page 1), it’s especially important for all town leaders and residents alike to go into the meeting confident that those who are voting on these proposals are entitled to do so. And despite Wright’s and others’ best efforts to date, there does not seem to be any such assurance as of now.

It’s been nearly two years now since a group called the Essex Clean Elections Fund, headed by residents Cliff Ageloff, dove headlong into this issue, challenging more than 100 registered Essex voters and finding that dozens were ineligible or simply withdrew their names when questioned. And in at least two confirmed cases, people claiming Essex as their primary residence were found to also be registered elsewhere. Yet the series of hearings looking into a number of those challenges was never completed, with the Clean Elections group backing off due to legal costs and the town not following through on the obviously painstaking process either.

The real issue, of course, is the lack of a clear state statue on establishing a “primary residence.” And let’s face it, leaving it up to officials to judge which of two or more communities may be the hub of a voter’s social and cultural life is a nebulous science at best.

State Sen. Bruce Tarr has legislation pending that would better define a person’s rightful voting place. And one can argue that the best defining factor should be the address used when a voter files his or her federal income tax. But it’s obvious that the state’s mangled wording of the eligibility statute will not be fixed by May 6.

That means town officials should indeed carve out time or, more realistically, bring in the help needed for carrying out a review of those part-time residents who are seeking a seat at Essex’s Town Meeting table. Learning of bogus voters after the town’s May 6 decisions cannot be an option.