VOTE! BUT WHERE? – November 2007

By Judy Garrison

We all know that a person can’t vote for president twice, from voting booths in districts at each of his two homes, for instance. In accordance with the one man, one vote rule, a person in this country must register to vote in one district, the one which qualifies as his permanent residence. But in today’s world of multiple homes—and we are not referring to the fishing camp or summer cottage of old—and employment which often offers flex-time arrangements and telecommuting and requires frequent travel, how exactly is primary residence determined?

This puzzle caught my attention recently when reading an article, and a subsequent letter to the editor in The Daily Star about a legal case pending before the State Supreme Court in Norwich.[Judge Kevin M. Dowd said he would offer a written statement as the ruling might have far-reaching consequences.] The battle, which originated in Bovina, stemmed from eight people registered to vote in Bovina, who were purged from the voting rolls by the Delaware County Board of Elections. The eight brought suit in a July 31 filing, seeking to be re-enrolled with Bovina as their voting address. In court, Delaware County Attorney Richard Spinney said that after a complaint was made to the local Board of Elections alleging that these people should not be voting in Bovina, the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department investigated. The Sheriff’s Department subsequently filed a report with the Board of Elections, indicating that the eight did not have their primary homes in Bovina. According to the Star report, when the eight did not provide income-tax forms that showed that Bovina was their primary residence, they were removed from the rolls. Spinney argued that the BOE was within its rights under state law to remove the eight voters. Court documents, submitted on behalf of the eight people state that these voters took sides in a debate over a local zoning policy, and that a Bovina citizen on the losing side of this issue then filed affidavits seeking to disenfranchise a number of his political opponents, specifically targeting the petitioners here, as they were perceived as vulnerable to challenge because each of them had an additional residence outside Bovina.

We will not delve into further details and ramifications of this particular case which is ongoing, and the appropriateness of the public statements of Delaware County Attorney Spinney, which have been construed by some as clearly biased in favor of the BOE.  But we can use it as a hopping off point for learning the ABCs (beyond that is out of my depth) of the voting law in New York State as gleaned from a couple of phone queries.

A new voter to the district, or simply a new voter, may register with the Delaware County Board of Elections either by picking up a registration form from the Post Office or Town Hall and mailing it in, or by registering in person at the office of the Board of Elections on Page Avenue in Delhi, our County Seat. In person the new registrant would present identification, such as a driver’s license. Absent that, he might present other indicia of residence such as a property tax or utility bill. If the new voter to the district has been registered elsewhere he would receive a card shortly from his prior district indicating he’d been taken off the rolls there. This demonstrates to me that, within New York, at least, there is swift communication between districts, to prevent multiple votes. If the new voter has registered by mail, he will have to present identification when he arrives at the voting both. The voting inspectors will have a notation in the register to indicate that they must check ID on this person.

Of course, as we have seen in the pending case mentioned above, there can be challenges to voter registration, and this is where further documentation, which may involve the addresses given on income tax returns, can come into play. A voting commissioner I spoke to (there is both a Republican and a Democratic commissioner) told me that the intent of state law is that you vote where you live. Determining which of two homes is the permanent home when a challenge is raised involves looking into numerous details. In the case of a “snowbird,” for instance, with a six month residence in New York and a six month residence in Florida, the citizen might be able to choose one as a permanent home, but could only take the benefits such as a STAR exemption in one state. That state would be the place where he could register to vote.

School budget votes, which in Andes take place in May at the School Bus Garage, have a different set of requirements. A voter is required to be 18 years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, and a permanent resident of Andes Central School District. The voter needn’t be registered to vote. Imagine someone who just turned 18 but hasn’t yet completed the registration process; someone who never got around to registering; or someone by dint of religious conviction doesn’t vote in governmental elections but chooses to participate in school issues. That person should not, however, be registered elsewhere outside the district, and representatives of the school district will often check the voter rolls to determine if the person is registered to vote here.

There are many Towns, among the 19 Towns in our county, which have within them incorporated villages, in addition to the various fire and water and sewer districts. Those towns and villages each have their own voting rules, though theoretically they all adhere to New York State law. The commissioner I spoke with remarked that the State is talking about making all the districts, including school districts, part of the County Board of Elections process. Whether this consolidation would create enormous problems or promote simplification is a matter for debate. Oregon currently has voting solely by mail, he said (something I was unaware of), and there is talk of voice identification voting by phone as the wave of the future. Even now, with the voting machine controversies already raging, we have plenty to consider.

But, hey, the important thing is that in this country we have a right to vote and our vote is counted (or so we dearly hope). So don’t squander that right!. Get out to the polls, as Andeans do in greater proportion to their numbers than voters just about anywhere else, on Election Day!~