Cape Cod Town Scrutinizing Seasonal Property Owners Registering To Vote

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2023/11/07/cape-cod-town-scrutinizing-seasonal-property-owners-registering-to-vote/

Town officials in Truro are scrutinizing recent voter registrations of property owners in the Cape Cod town who also live elsewhere, holding hearings to determine if the registrations are valid.

A group called the Truro Part-time Resident Taxpayers Association has encouraged people who own summer homes in the town to register to vote in Truro in order to vote against certain measures at a special Town Meeting currently scheduled for Thursday, November 16.

A press release issued by town officials on October 13 raised concerns about the new voters in Truro, saying in part:  “… participation by ineligible persons dilutes the votes of properly registered voters.”

The town moderator, who runs Town Meeting, delayed the date of Town Meeting twice in order to give town officials time to investigate the new voter registrations.

The town’s Board of Registrars has received challenges of 66 voter registrations. The board held hearings on some of the challenges Monday, November 6, according to a press release from the town. Others are planned for Tuesday, November 7 and likely later in the week, according to The Cape Cod Times.

If they vote together as a bloc, 66 voters could decide some measures brought before Town Meeting in Truro if the other voters are somewhat evenly divided.

Truro, near the northern tip of the Outer Cape, is the smallest town on Cape Cod, with a population of less than 2,500. The May 2023 annual town election drew 590 voters, out of 2,181 registered voters. Truro’s annual Town Meeting in April 2023 drew 383 voters.

As with most small and medium-size towns in Massachusetts, open Town Meeting in Truro functions as the town’s legislature. An up-or-down vote by voters who go to Town Meeting determines most of the town government’s spending. Any registered voter in Truro can attend Town Meeting and vote on warrant articles when they come up.

Among the warrant articles drawing interest for special Town Meeting in Truro this fall are a measure that would build a new public works building for $35 million; a measure that would appropriate $3.5 million to design a new public works building but not build it; and a measure that would allow a developer to build up to 160 below-market-rate housing unitson a portion of a 69-acre parcel of land the town owns.

The public works building appropriation would be a Proposition 2 ½ debt exclusion, which would add to the town’s tax levy beyond the amount state law ordinarily allows without an override approved by the voters, which is 2.5 percent plus allowances for new growth. The debt exclusion tax increase would last as long as it takes to pay off the bond issue that pays for the project.

In Massachusetts cities and towns, property taxes are paid by all property owners in the town, according to the assessed value of the property. In all 15 towns on Cape Cod, that includes a significant number of people who own seasonal homes in the town but do not maintain their primary residence there and thus do not vote there. A voter may register only in one place, and most voters register in the municipality where they spend most of their time.

Massachusetts state law says any U.S. citizen 18 or older “who is a resident in the city or town where he claims the right to vote at the time he registers” can register to vote there.

How to define a “resident,” though, is complicated, and has been the subject of court cases.  “There is no clear-cut definition of residency,” states a guide issued by the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office called Residence For Voting Purposes, which is based on state statutes and court precedents and does not itself have the force of law.

Any registered voter can challenge another voter’s registration “as illegal or incorrect,” the guide states, and that triggers a preliminary investigation by the local board of registrars and likely a hearing.

Under “Part-Time Residents,” the guide says:

 

Some people spend part of the year in one place and in another.  Although some voters may live in more than one community, they can have only one legal residence.  That residence is the place where the facts show they intend to make their home according to the basic principles discussed earlier.

 

Those “basic principles” include that the town or city is the person’s “domicile,” meaning, according to the guide, “a person’s home or where he or she is physically present, intending it to be home for at least a time.”

The guide also states:

 

It is not true that people who live part of the time in different places may simply pick one of them as their legal residence.  Rather, residence is determined by examining all the factual circumstances which indicate where their home actually is.  Although the relative amount of time people live in various places is not conclusive, it is an importance factor to be considered.  It is unlikely that many people will have their homes in … communities where they live only during the summer months.

 

In Truro, a town resident who is a former selectman in nearby Provincetown filed the challenges to the recent voter registrations, according to The Cape Cod Times.

Some of the hearings Monday night were testy, the newspaper reported. The board upheld as valid six of the nine challenged voter registrations considered Monday; a lawyer for the other three voters whose registrations the board deemed invalid is considering appealing the board’s rulings in state superior court, according to the newspaper.

Truro Board of Registrars hearings may continue all week.

 

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