ESSEX — Last Thursday night, just five days before a national election, Susan Abis of Middle Road found out the voter registration she had filed in Essex was denied, and for the first time in nearly 35 years, she would not cast a ballot. After transferring her drivers’ license to Massachusetts in June and collecting the proper documentation to register in Essex, Abis drove to the town clerk’s office and filled out a registration form on Oct. 17. A week later, she received an invitation to discuss her registration application at a registrars meeting on Nov. 1. At that meeting, officials decided Abis was ineligible to vote in Essex.
“We found that the evidence was not enough to support Essex being the center of her social, civic and domestic life,” Town Clerk Christina Wright said. “It really comes down to the individuals, and we can only act on the evidence in front of us.”
Abis, a Conomo Point homeowner who also lives part time in New Hampshire, had been denied voter registration in Essex before too. After having voted in Essex between November 2010 and Sept. 2011, Abis was removed from the ballot in the town’s cleansing of their voter rolls, encouraged by residents who opposed the seasonal residents’ registration.
Abis attempted to register again in Essex in November of last year, but was denied. In March she put in another attempt to no avail. Then, after officials at the Department of Motor Vehicles and an attorney told Abis that her Massachusetts drivers’ license, along with bills addressed to her name and Essex address, would be enough evidence of her residency, she tried this one last time in October.
“The DMV said you have all the documentation and yes, this is fine. But it’s not fine for Essex,” Abis said. Registrars questioned Abis and discussed her registration situation and potential voter eligibility over the course of about two hours Thursday night, she said. Abis said members of the board of registrars asked her questions on topics including where she attends church, her participation in local social groups and her dog’s age. The registrar’s, with Abis’ assistance totaled the number of days she spent on Conomo Point in the past year too, figuring Abis spent about one third of the year on the peninsula.
Though some might define a home as where a person spends the majority of their time, Abis disagrees.
“My whole family gathers there. It’s where we’re married, it’s where we go for funerals, it’s our home. Essex is my passion and that’s my home and that’s where I choose to vote.”
Still others oppose the town registering residents, who they consider seasonal, to vote in Essex. Cliff Ageloff filed a complaint with the Secretary of the Commonwealth against the town, calling into question the clerk and board of registrar’s actions in registering part-time residents, he wrote in a May letter to the Gloucester times.
“Unfortunately, in Essex, the integrity of our local electorate continues to be questionable since non-residents continue to breach the public trust by asserting false residency on their voter registration forms,” Ageloff wrote. “Although there are a number of easily identifiable structures that are unoccupied during the winter, without water or heat, part-time seasonal residents continue to wrongfully claim voting rights from places where they are not physically present nor can legally intend to remain: the two key components one must achieve to be granted legal voting privileges.”
Still, Conomo Point registration proponents point out that 28 homes on the Point are qualified as year-round residences. And, Conomo Point resident Nina Walker wrote a letter on behalf of many Conomo Point homeowners to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, saying these homeowners were targeted, having to prove their residency when other town residents do not. “There are numerous individuals who were challenged and called to a hearing more than once and asked to prove by unnecessary and burdensome documentation that they had a right to vote in a Town where their civil and social connection is indisputable,” Walker wrote.
Abis partially owns a home on Middle Road, sharing the property with her father and siblings. She and her husband own another home in New Hampshire, and she works as a clinical reviewer for the technical support company Ally Networks, LLC., a job she performs remotely. Abis said she had voted in New Hampshire in the past, but asked to be taken off the New Hampshire rolls when she first registered in Essex in recent years. By New Hampshire law, a New Hampshire resident can still register in person on voting day, with proof of residency in New Hampshire. But, even with New Hampshire a swing state, Abis said she would rather vote in the town she considers home, Essex.
“I own property in New Hampshire, yes. But whether I own one home or 50 is immaterial. I’ve lived in a lot of states, but Essex is my home,” Abis said. “It’s where my political allegiances lie.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.