Condos: Rob Roper’s commentary is inaccurate and misleading

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.

Recently, Ethan Allen Institute President Rob Roper posted an op-ed with the inflammatory, sensational title, “So Second Home Owners Can Vote in Vermont?” Perhaps as intended, Mr. Roper’s attention seeking commentary caused significant confusion and concern about Vermont’s residency law for voting purposes. As Vermont’s chief elections official, let me set the record straight.

Photo courtesy of state of Vermont

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos

Mr. Roper discusses a pending case in Essex County Superior Court which alleges that certain individuals on the Town of Victory’s voter checklist are not residents of the town as defined in the election law.

RELATED: Connecticut family admits voting in Vermont, says Condos’ office gave OK

Let me be perfectly clear — I do not believe, and would never suggest, that the language in the residency definition means second home owners in Vermont may register to vote here.

Roper cites testimony given during a hearing in this case by VT’s Director of Elections, Will Senning:

“[Senning] was asked under oath, “When a voter registers, does that voter have to have a principle residence in the town at the moment that they register?” Senning’s answer: “Not necessarily.” Asked “Why not?” His answer was, “Because they may be intending to make that place their principle residence in the near future.” Pressed further with the question, “How far out can that intent be?” Senning testified, “There’s no objective standard in terms of that time frame.”

Roper calls this a “wildly loose interpretation” and alleges that it means “there is no legal standard of residence for voting in Vermont.” Later he asserts, “Condos is not only turning a blind eye to but actively facilitating vote fraud.” While this kind of irresponsible rhetoric is fashionable in Washington DC these days — it doesn’t fly in Vermont.

As Secretary of State, my role is to administer the law as it is currently written.

We do not enforce the law — that is the province of the Attorney General and the courts.

We do not write the law — that responsibility lies with the legislature.

Mr. Roper knows this, and I certainly hope that he is not asking me or the elections staff to ignore the law and administer it as we think it should be, not how it is written.

For the purpose of registering to vote, VT election law defines residency as follows: “’resident’ shall mean a person who is domiciled in the town as evidenced by an intent to maintain a principal dwelling place in the town indefinitely and to return there if temporarily absent, coupled with an act or acts consistent with that intent.” (Emphasis added).

The law does not say you must have slept here for half the nights in the past year, or for 30 days before registering, or that you intend to move here in less than 30 days. With no objective standard, a person’s intent to maintain a principal dwelling place here must be supported by “an act or acts consistent with that intent.”

The town/city clerks and local boards of civil authority (BCA), in reviewing a voter application, can request an applicant appear before the BCA and present their evidence of that intent. If the BCA feels it is not sufficient, they may deny the application. That denial may be appealed to a court and the facts ultimately heard by a judge. This is not the wild-west, as Roper would like you to believe. There is a process, a consideration of evidence, and a decision based on that evidence.

Essentially, Mr. Roper is saying these local officials are unable to make informed judgements about who is qualified based on the facts of a given case. I would like to think Mr. Roper would have more respect for our hard-working local officials than to suggest they would simply “turn a blind eye” to instances where someone may be trying to abuse the system.

Does this definition of residency require a subjective analysis based on the facts and circumstances of each case? Yes.

Is that by design? I believe it is.

The legislature decided that an objective standard simply could not address the particular, diverse circumstances surrounding an individual’s qualification for residency for voting purposes. It would risk excluding some who have a legitimate interest in registering and voting.

Mr. Roper asserts our “wildly loose” interpretation of the residency requirement “does not reflect the spirit or the language of the statute.” I could not disagree more.

In fact, I believe our interpretation reflects both the spirit and letter of the law, by relying on the fact-specific, subjective analysis that the law requires.

Mr. Roper is quick to tell readers what I think even though he has not contacted me. He had ample opportunity to express his concerns about voter registration in Vermont last year when a comprehensive election bill moved through the legislature, but he never appeared.

My door is open and I would be glad to discuss any ways in which the residency definition could be revised as long as it would not unnecessarily disenfranchise legitimate voters.

14 thoughts on “Condos: Rob Roper’s commentary is inaccurate and misleading

  1. Voters ,
    Just take a ride around Burlington and the Colleges and check out the License Plates and the
    bumper sticker , you’ll see who they support !!

    Then you’ll realize why Montpelier ( Condo’s ) doesn’t have or see any issues on who and how
    people vote , resident or not ……………..Shameful .

  2. Here’s Condos’ red-herring defense:”As Secretary of State, my role is to administer the law as it is currently written.
    We do not enforce the law — that is the province of the Attorney General and the courts.”

    Administering the law includes the area of voter list integrity. He’s not doing it (at least not where the abuse gives his desired results). And no one is asking him to enforce (prosecute) the law (there’s the red herring).
    However he does have a duty to notify the AG when violations occur.

  3. Time to VOTE Condos out of office and replace with someone who actually cares who is voting in VT o as summarized by Willem Post: “You should be pro-active and agitate in front of legislators about the lousy voting rules that are full of holes, and about the abuses that can exist as mentioned in above comment by Jerr Z Turtle.”

  4. No, the Secretary of State doesn’t write the laws. However, consider the Vermont Oath of Allegiance.

    “I, ‘James C. Condos’, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will be true and faithful to the State of Vermont, and that I will not, directly or indirectly, do any act or thing injurious to the Constitution or Government thereof.”

    To ‘administer’ the law or ‘enforce’ the law, that is the question. A difference with little distinction? Perhaps. “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” WS

    The Secretary of State doth protest too much, me thinks.

  5. Anyone who has attended a town meeting will know that “you can sit and listen, but you can’t vote” instructions are ludicrous. Many issues are settled by voice vote with no regard to who is or not a registered voter. Even with the Australian ballot, the voters are not checked against the voter registration list. Mr. Condos, it’s time for you to get out of Montpelier as there is a whole big state out there.

  6. When you are arguing your case in front of the court, it isn’t the ‘spirit’ of the law but the language of the law that matters. In a Progressive Vermont Court of Law, you will go in as a pig and come out as a sausage.

  7. Having been an out-of-state owner of a VT home for the past 10 years, I find this whole thing amusing. Going to Town Meeting one year, I was told upon entry that I could sit and listen, but not vote. Having made the move here, I went to DMV with a copy of my tax bill and a utility bill- all the documentation they needed to issue a driver’s license. With the motor-voter law in effect, viola’ I can now vote in VT. So here’s the question for Mr. Condos: How may NJ-NY-CT-MA people do you think carry VT driver’s licenses and have VT plates on their cars parked ‘elsewhere’ so they can avoid the onerous insurance premiums? And yes, as the law states now, they CAN vote in VT. Your weak defense of the law as written holds no water.

  8. Jimmy “C’ wants everyone to be able to vote everywhere every time and anytime the whim strikes them – Jim calls this ballot access. He has repeatedly informed that it is not his job to decide who is qualified to be on the Election ballot or who qualifies (or doesn’t qualify) to vote ! I suspect that if you are a conservative or a Republican – he would consider it his duty to give you a little extra scrutiny !

  9. Condos,

    That second homeowner likely also votes in his home state.
    And if that person has 3 or 4 homes he may vote in 3 or 4 states?
    And all jibes with the principle of “one man, one vote”?

    Vermont, for fairness reasons, should implement “one man, one vote”, because 90% of folks have only one house.

    Please state YOUR views.

    • Condos,

      You should be pro-active and agitate in front of legislators about the lousy voting rules that are full of holes, and about the abuses that can exist as mentioned in above comment by Jerr Z Turtle.

      Any person in your position should be aware of this. Why are not talking out loud about this?

      Out of staters getting VT driver’s licenses, and then voting as if they are Vermonters!!

      It is totally ludicrous such a condition is allowed to exist in Vermont.

      The rule should be “one man one vote”, and that vote is ONLY IN ONE PLACE.

      My other comment regarding people with multiple houses voting in multiple places is also far beyond ridiculous, and unfair to folks who only have one house.

  10. It’s a Democrat / Progressive thing.
    Remember Bernie registering hundreds of out of state, out of town, UVM students to vote here. Decades ago.
    Victory is a wierd case of Hatfield and MaCoy clan wars.

  11. Secretary Condos, for all his bluster, seems to be answering the question posed in the article, “So, Second Homeowners Can Vote In Vermont?” as “Yes!” He refers to the statue (as I did), “’resident’ shall mean a person who is domiciled in the town as evidenced by an intent to maintain a principal dwelling place in the town indefinitely and to return there if temporarily absent, coupled with an act or acts consistent with that intent.”

    Well, what act is more consistent with the intent to live someplace than purchasing a house? Especially if, as Senning testified (testimony which Condos supports here) that there is no objective timeline for actually being domiciled in Vermont after establishing “intent”, and, as Condos admits, there is “no objective standard” for establishing intent!!!

    If you agree with Condos’ logic, as he’s laid it out here, then you have to agree that any second homeowner in Vermont can claim the right to vote in Vermont elections. And, our Secretary of State seems fine with that!

    • What about this part of the commentary?

      “Let me be perfectly clear — I do not believe, and would never suggest, that the language in the residency definition means second home owners in Vermont may register to vote here.”

      A second home would not be a “principal dwelling place” and a town clerk or BCA should deny registration on those grounds.

      Plus, voting in multiple states is illegal, so I suggest reporting it if you suspect it.

  12. Conveniently, Mr Condos chooses to emphasize “intent to maintain” rather than “temporarily absent”. Kind of symbolic of this entire debacle.

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