Carole Owens: Residence a choice for second-homeowners
STOCKBRIDGE — It is tradition that on the first Saturday after the Fourth of July, the second-homeowners of Stockbridge meet with the select board. This year only one of three board members was present.
Understandably this was received as a slight. Everyone, and certainly second homeowners, are welcome and encouraged to attend any and all select board, commission, committee, and town meetings. Still it was a disappointment to second-homeowners not to have all three select board members present at their special meeting. As property owners, they are concerned about, literally hold an investment in, local issues.
The event prompted a July 16 column by Clarence Fanto "Stockbridge second-homeowners bemoan 'taxation without representation." Among the complaints articulated by the 75 attendees was their inability to vote in local elections and at town meetings. Letters to The Eagle also expressed the same complaint.
The complaint is not limited to Stockbridge or to Berkshire County. As Americans became wealthier and more mobile, they acquired second and sometimes third homes. Interest in influencing local decision-making followed. Nonetheless, it is a curious complaint. Here's why.
IN THEIR HANDS
It is entirely up to us where we vote. We pick where we are residents, and the right to vote is based on that residency. The bottom line is that second-homeowners have the right and the power to choose where they vote. They don't need the select board or anyone else to give them the right to vote locally. It is in their hands.
We vote only where we have a domicile. Domicile is typically defined as, "the place where a person dwells and intends to remain and identifies as his domicile." Note it is self-identification. Second-homeowners have more than one domicile. So, the question is: where do they choose to be residents?
In most states, residency is the cornerstone of the right to vote. A property owner, one with a domicile, is an eligible voter only if he also meets the residency requirements of that state. If you choose to be a resident of, and therefore vote in, Massachusetts then Massachusetts requires you live in the Commonwealth more than183 days per year, pay state income taxes, and have a Massachusetts driver's license.
The taxes to which the second homeowners referred in Fanto's column were real estate taxes, not income taxes. They may not choose to pay income taxes in what is often called Taxachusetts. It may be a better financial decision to be a resident of a state where there is no state income tax. The point is that it is up to them. They can choose.
To vote in a federal election more than once is a form of voter fraud. To vote in state elections in more than one state is also voter fraud. The law is silent on whether non-residents can vote in local elections. In 47 states, they follow the law for local as well as state and federal elections. In three states, this silence has allowed states to grant second-homeowners the right to vote locally. The three states are Connecticut, Delaware, and New Mexico. However, those state laws are subject to local approval. That is, a state can allow voting on the local level but only in those municipalities that formally approve it. To date, Massachusetts does not allow it so neither can the locality.
The annual meeting between Stockbridge and the second-homeowners is a nice tradition. Hopefully all will appreciate it and attend. Listening to concerns from any and all interested parties is also a Berkshire tradition. For some, however, traditions are not enough. For those who wish to hold office or to vote for state or local candidates or at a town meeting, become a resident of the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
A writer and historian, Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.
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