Residence versus Domicile at heart of registration confusion
During a voter registration workshop presented by Supervisor of Elections Lynda Roberts on Feb. 2, Mono County’s Board of Supervisors took up the issue of how voter registration, particularly in relation to second homeowners, was handled during the 2008 election.
Supervisors previously requested the workshop as a follow-up to the Grand Jury’s 2008-2009 report, which addressed and made recommendations regarding sending informational letters to registered voters with out-of-county mailing addresses. (Out of roughly 6,300 registered Mono County voters, 2.7% have out-of-county addresses.)
Roberts’ presentation specifically addressed the definitions of “domicile” and “residence,” which, contrary to some public misperception, are not the same thing according to the state’s election code.
Some misconceptions were reportedly borne out of publication of a letter to the editor in the Mammoth Times, and a subsequent e-mail blast, both of which encouraged voters with second homes in the area to register to vote in Mono County. Both Roberts and the Mono County Counsel’s office determined the information in the letter and e-mail was, at best, misleading.
The Mammoth Times editor printed a disclaimer stating the County’s advice to voters that second homeowners with out-of-county mailing addresses may not be able to register if they use a business or secondary address as a “domicile.”
Based on voter registration figures at the time, Roberts said she was prompted to send out letters to 18 new voter registrations, essentially attempting to set them straight about their rights under state election law.
The Secretary of State’s voter registration guide (available online at the state’s official site) says that voters can have several residences, but can only claim one domicile.
Mark Magit in the County Counsel’s office said he thinks the law is “not ambiguous” on this point. “There are factual circumstances that apply,” Magit said. The letter and e-mail, Magit indicated, implied that it was easy to switch your address to allow voting in Mono County for that one election, after which you could just switch it back. No muss, no fuss. No way, says Magit. “The election code speaks to a union of intent and action that determines domicile,” he said. “The way I read the law, a person can choose once … this is where I live. You can’t flip flop.”
Magit described that when a registration is challenged, a number of factors are looked at, including where you file for homestead exemption, for example. “The Clerk’s office looks to section 2031 of the election code, which specifically addresses issues of multiple residences,” he explained. “Probably the number one presumption of where you live is your drivers license,” he said. “It’s the primary form of ID that lets the world know the location you call home.”
Roberts said candidates and poll workers in precincts are allowed to pass on information to the Supervisor of Elections office regarding voters they know or suspect may have died or moved out of area. Roberts said poll workers can note any leads on the voter rolls, and those leads will be followed up. In the case of candidate challenges, however, even though their word isn’t taken as valid, there is still no formal written process to document the reporting party’s information. Roberts said improving documentation is a good suggestion that was brought to the County’s attention and is something that’s being worked on.
In both cases, Roberts’ letters closed by saying that if you claim Mono County as your primary domicile, you can ignore the letter. Magit said that all voter registration cards are considered affidavits of registration and sign it under penalty of perjury, leading to a “good faith” assumption of honesty. Roberts said it’s important for voters to do their homework when claiming domicile on their registration form. “You sign that document on penalty of perjury,” she pointed out. Magit agreed. “If you are challenged on it, there could be penalties involved,” he added.
No voter was denied the right to vote, and that anyone who requested a ballot was issued one, she stated. Charges of intimidation within Roberts’ letters were found groundless in the Grand Jury’s year-end report, issued in fall 2009. County Counsel said that the Jury reviewed the letters for both content and legality. As to why the letters weren’t sent to all voters, Roberts explained that it essentially amounted to the difference between a few targeted letters totaling a couple of hundred dollars at most and a blanket spread of letters that would have totaled a thousand dollars or more.
The Board agreed that it was confident that the intent of what the public voted for under Measures A and B, which established the parameters under which Roberts’ position operates, has not been violated, and that though Mono County’s Supervisor of Election is an appointed and not elected, position, it is nonetheless governed by state law and answerable to Sacramento for any misconduct.
Lizza gets deep-dished
Some June Lake residents skeptical of the election process told the Board that Mono County Grand Jury foreman Chris Lizza should have excused himself from being part of last year’s 08-04 complaint review (included with the Grand Jury’s 2009 final report). Al Heinrich said he planned to ask the Grand Jury if Lizza would recuse himself, but apparently he was never contacted by anyone from the Grand Jury, despite a written request to be interviewed.
He further pointed out that Lizza supported Bauer during the 2008 election, and also helped raise funds for her campaign, which Heinrich asserts may have constituted a conflict of interest. (Lizza’s name was included on a list of supporters issued by the Committee to Re-elect Vikki Bauer.)
Heinrich also questioned the appropriateness of a sitting supervisor (one also up for re-election) being allowed to review the County’s voter rolls, though there is a provision allowing basically anyone, including candidates, to challenge voter registration rolls.
The June contingent also voiced concerns about challenges to more than two-dozen voter registrations made in August 2008 by an attorney on behalf of Supervisor Bauer after the June vote and prior to the Nov. 4 runoff with Dorothy Burdette, that was triggered by a close vote the previous June.