Guest editorial: Determining who can vote, where
Last week, St. Johnsbury attorney Deborah Bucknam penned an editorial attacking me, titled “Allowing non-residents to vote equals voter suppression.”
While I agree that non-residents voting in Vermont elections would dilute the votes of Vermonters, I could not disagree more with her premise that my office provided guidance to allow or encourage this activity. She used careful and selective editing to make her case.
To the contrary, we work every day to train and assist Vermont’s hard-working city and town clerks who administer the voter registration process to ensure that only eligible Vermont residents are added to and remain on the voter checklist. The authority to add/delete people from the voter checklist resides with the clerks and Boards of Civil Authority (BCA).
As the chief election official in Vermont, my most important responsibility is to ensure that all elections are free and without corruption.
However, unlike Ms. Bucknam and others who seek to sow mistrust in our elections process, I am confident that Vermont’s local city and town clerks and BCA members take their responsibilities seriously – including their responsibility to ensure that only eligible Vermont residents are placed on, and remain on, the voter checklists. We have no evidence or indication of a widespread issue in Vermont of non-residents remaining registered and voting in Vermont elections.
Ms. Bucknam’s editorial references a recent case involving the Town of Victory in which Superior Court Judge Thomas Devine concluded that certain individuals on the Victory voter checklist were not residents of the town and ordered them removed from the checklist. Bucknam somehow fails to mention that she was the attorney who represented the plaintiff in this case, a fact that adds important context to her presentation of the facts and conclusions.
Judge Devine’s legal analysis can be summed up by his conclusion that a person claiming residency in a Vermont town must show BOTH an intent to be a permanent resident of that town, coupled with actions sufficient to support that intent. As the Judge wrote, “expressed intent must be viewed in light of the other objective evidence” and that “neither residency or intent alone is enough to establish [domicile].”
Ms. Bucknam points to language contained in guidance on our website stating “the law creates a subjective standard,” and claims this is an “erroneous directive” advising “that individuals with a subjective intent to move to a town are eligible to vote.”
Not surprisingly, she took this language entirely out of context. The complete paragraph on our website from which she extracted a single line to support her argument reads:
“The law creates a subjective standard. This means that it is the voter’s intent and actions that determine residency, not how many nights a year the voter sleeps in town. A voter who has more than one home must decide which one is his or her “principal” dwelling place.”
As Judge Devine stated “expressed intent must be viewed in light of the other objective evidence.”
Directly contrary to Ms. Bucknam’s claims, the language on our website actually mirrors and confirms the Judge’s decision, and has done so since long before the Judge’s decision.
The law itself, which I am bound to enforce, requires in its plain language: “an act or acts consistent with that intent.” I have always been clear that objective actions and evidence of the same must be present to support a person’s stated intent to make a town their primary residence.
The residency determination should be made on a case-by-case basis, looking at the facts and intentions of the particular individual – the subject of the application. Merriam Webster’s fourth definition for the term “subjective” is “peculiar to a particular individual.” It is in precisely this way that the term subjective is used in the guidance on my website – on a case-by-case basis, particular to an individual’s specific circumstance.
Again, this guidance is wholly in line with Judge Devine’s decision in the Victory matter. As the Judge states in his decision “[a] determination of domicile necessarily considers the state of mind of an interested party.” Ms. Bucknam can extract pieces of the language from both my website and the Judge’s decision in order to conclude that my directives are erroneous, but that doesn’t make it true.
Finally, Ms. Bucknam also asserts that my advice regarding the right of college students to register and vote in the town where they are attending college is contrary to the law and the court’s decision.
As an attorney, Ms. Bucknam should take the time to research the well-established line of court cases that have established the right of college students to vote. Denying those attending college in Vermont the right to register and vote in the town where they are attending school would most likely be overturned by the courts. Ms. Bucknam should do her legal research.
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