An article in the Times, Friday, Oct. 11, details a scheduled public hearing concerned with voter registration laws, especially applicable to residents who appear able to register to vote in at least two different districts within the Commonwealth.
Sen. Bruce Tarr has scheduled the hearing for purposes of discussing a new bill on this subject, proposed on behalf of Essex, a town frustrated by existing direction. Essex has endured months of time and costs of legal action, and is still nowhere near finished with the subject.
The Times story discloses that some in Rockport are now concerned with the same issue; although that concern is muted in what appears to be a “so what” attitude expressed by our officials.
The senator’s efforts on behalf of his constituency are legion and legend. But, taking the announcement of the public hearing in context, it is suggested that the Senate concern itself with how certain towns are presently in this mess.
I learned of the potential for “dual” voter registration, just as Rockport began a genuine look into how such a proposal applies to its Long Beach colony. The activity here is apparently a year old. The concept didn’t ring true.
I contacted the Office of the Secretary of State, requesting assistance in determining what law, or statute governs the process. The initial response; “It is unclear whether the persons at these residences are registered to vote, or just being allowed to attend and speak at Town Meetings. In either scenario, this office does not have any policy or statute relative to the “registration” of part-time residents, other than case law regarding residence for voter purposes.”
Note the phrase “case law,” which in so many cases of “gotcha” in this Commonwealth, makes things right. The response included the statement that the office would contact the Rockport town clerk to determine the source it used for its acceptance of Long Beach registrations. Surprisingly, the town clerk’s office confirmed that some people who are Long Beach are registered to vote from Long Beach residences.
The secretary’s office continued, “The reference to the ‘policy’ or ‘statute’ from this office is regarding the booklet we publish called ‘Residence for Voting Purposes.’”
Note the quotation marks here are those used by the office. The secretary provided a copy of the “booklet.” It is the document Rockport apparently followed, and the directions for “dis-enfranchising” such residents is virtually impossible.
The “booklet” is confusing — a virtually unreadable publication carrying the legend, “Election Resource Handbook 1997.” Its attempted resolution of the terms, “domicile” and “residence” is convoluted. The booklet references several examples of “case law,” and it can be suspected that our problem is contained therein, as in, “the devil is in the details.”
I did not call the appropriate division of the Office of Attorney General seeking clarification concerning enforcement of the data supplied, since no “law” or “policy” is involved.
State law also requires residents to submit census data, or “street listing” information every New Year’s. The required data is succinct, and is used in determining state budget assessments for appropriate municipal entities. Which one of us counts — Lockport or the “other?”
Supposing, after a review of all this gobbledygook, it is determined that part-time voter registrations are invalid. Will that mean that any recent public votes taken concerning Long Beach lease policy require examination for validity, and then what?
And since Essex and Rockport share the same town counsel, shouldn’t that firm have advised our town clerk with an appropriate heads up? Or was the advisory received and simply accepted as gospel? And, since “policy” is called out, was our Select Board made aware, since “policy implementation” is a primary function of that body?
The devil is in the details, and I’ll pass on the public hearing. With everything this Commonwealth has ahead of it, I doubt that consideration of a new bill governing this mess will meet full legislative consideration anytime soon.