, Gloucester, MA


October 14, 2013

Editorial: Voter residency study through Tarr bill is long overdue

A bill filed by state Sen. Bruce Tarr regarding the state’s residency and voter eligibility laws — one slated for a public hearing at the State House on Wednesday — won’t produce any direct changes in the state’s voting murky eligibility rules that have raised significant concerns in Essex and are surfacing in Rockport as well.

That’s because Tarr’s bill doesn’t make recommendations for specific changes; it only asks the Secretary of State’s office to review the current standards and “make any recommendations to strengthen and clarify residency requirements.”

But Tarr’s request is an important first step toward changes that are clearly needed. The state’s voter residency standards are essential for assuring and protecting the integrity of local Town Meeting votes and local elections, especially. And despite inroads made two years ago by an Essex citizens’ group led by Cliff Ageloff, the reality is that at least some voters who have participated in key Essex and now perhaps Rockport decisions — relating to seasonal properties at Conomo Point and Long Leach — may not have been held eligible to do so. That’s a betrayal of other town residents that cannot continue.

At issue is whether seasonal tenants or residents should be able to vote in Town Meetings or in town elections, given that voting eligibility is defined by one’s primary residence.

That’s a dicey proposition from the start for many Conomo Point and Long Beach residences, whose “homes” in those towns must be considered seasonal in the first place. Yet many of those residents have succeeded in obtaining local voting rights by claiming these properties are their “primary” residences, based on such loosely defined logic as where they regularly attend church, perhaps where they bank, and where they feel the most civically connected.

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