P.O. Box 324
Truro MA, 02666

2023 Voter Challenges of “The 66” | The Real Outcome and Damaging Impact

At the conclusion of challenges by Raphael Richter to 66 new voters in the Fall 2023, we can now see that the impacts are both direct and far reaching.  The number of challenges to newly registered voters since May 10, 2023 was unprecedented in Truro, and perhaps in the Commonwealth. That alone should be a matter of concern.

But the impact is far greater than the numbers alone suggest.  Truro impacts are “direct” because True is uniquely and specifically affected; and “far reaching” because Truro now stands apart from the Commonwealth on voter registration –  and has opened a Pandora’s box… who get to close the lid –  Truro or the State?

Results of the Fall challenges to new voters can be found in an earlier post on November 10th. At the end of the day, 86% of those who defended their right to vote in Truro prevailed.  Of the 29 who withdrew to avoid the expense, humiliation, and hassle of defensing their voter registrations, almost all would likely follow the statistical pattern and prevail, too.

Along the way, “The 66” – and indeed the entire community (even beyond the town of Truro itself) – reportedly witnessed what many voters and others see as a targeted operation to intimidate new voters, chill future interest in registering, and advance what may have been the ultimate goal:  to suppress voter turnout, especially of seniors who oppose unaffordable tax burdens, of part-time residents who are eligible to vote in Truro, and of new voters living in neighborhoods where the Town has major capital projects proposed.

The community also witnessed the baseless attacks on TPRTA, the only independent taxpayer organization in Truro, and saw firsthand the newly-lodged demand that challenged voters reveal personal information on membership in clubs, churches, and religious institutions, reveal tax information without protection, and even defend their trash disposal methods. It was and will remain a low moment – and a costly yet truly useless effort – by government officials and the challenger.

The bottom lines:

Truro’s challenges revealed that a targeted group of new voters were deprived of and forced to defend the right to vote in Truro. MA does not have a minimum durational residency requirement for voting.  Any resident, regardless of how much time they spent in Truro up to the moment of registration, may vote in Truro if s/he declares the intention for Truro to be “home –  the center of their civic and social life”  from that point FORWARD (not back) and if s/he votes nowhere else.  Every voter who registers is to be given the benefit of the doubt by law and the time to establish – as any new voter would – their primary connections in Truro.

It further affirmed what the State Elections Commission noted:  that TPRTA behaved lawfully and correctly informed potential voters on voter registration, consistent with its mission and its practices over a quarter of a century.

Post-Challenge Findings Issued on Behalf of the Challenged Voters

Following the challenges, counsel for the majority of challenged voters who participated in hearings issued a conclusory letter to the State Election Commission and other regulatory agencies.

Some of its central conclusions are summarized below, and include:

The Town created new precedent and standards on voter registration –  and stands alone in the Commonwealth on this.  No other municipality subjects voters to the scrutiny, to such backward-looking requirements for new voters, and the oppressive and invasive challenge processes Truro subjected these voters to.  And now, no one knows what a valid voter registration is according to Truro’s new and unique standards.  As the report states:

In the wake of these hearings, it is unclear whether a part-time (or new) resident who in the future declares Truro as “home” and attempts to register to vote will be challenged and subject to an invasive, stressful, time consuming, and costly process in order to defend their voting rights, all the while subject to questions that contravene established law and processes that violate civil rights. It is also unclear what the effect is and will be on other Towns in the Commonwealth and about what this unimaginable assault on voter registration means for their communities.

The challenge criteria put into question the very definition of “part-time” and “full-time” resident with respect to voting and duration of residency. On the five criteria challenger Richter applied, they did not uniformly apply to the challenged 66, which means they do not uniformly apply to any resident of Truro. In fact, the challenges showed that “third rail” items like the Residential Tax Exemption (RTE) or personal property tax cross the fuzzy lines of Town uses of full and part-time status.

The “objective” criteria applied against challenged voters failed to define or clarify voter registration validation. None of the five elements in the “sushi menu” of challenges were actually uniformly relevant to the Board of Registrars’ (BoR) decisions. As the report noted:

None of the reasons offered in support of the challenges were relevant to new voters, and in no case were there sufficient grounds to hold a hearing.

Not innocent until proven guilty, as required.  The Town has the burden of proving ineligibility to register, but improperly placed the burden on voters to prove their eligibility.  This goes against law and precedent, where law and precedent favor the registered voter, as noted:  

In the hearings the Board often misstated and seemed to misunderstand the standard of review, requiring that the challenged voter prove by a preponderance of the evidence that they were properly registered, rather than requiring the challenger to show with compelling evidence that the voter should be stricken from the rolls.

There is a statistically significant indication of discrimination based on age. Seniors were treated badly.  About 57% of Truro residents are 60-85 years of age.  But 82% of the challenged voters were in that age group.  Only 18% were in their 50s, and none were below the age of 40, even though that age cohort had many new voters registered after May 10 who have second residences outside of Truro.  But they were not challenged on the basis of two addresses, as were “the 66.”  As the report says:

…[Town] concern that those projects may not be supported by older voters, may be the motivation behind the challenges to newly registered, older voters and it may explain the many actions taken before and after the challenges to continue to disrupt the vote in Truro.

There seems to have been a long-term effort to disrupt the Special Town Meeting vote in Truro.  The challenges were cited three times as justification to delay Special Town meeting, in contravention of MGL 39 §10. Town Counsel has advised otherwise but no justification has been found in law.  The challenges themselves may well have been an effort to deflect the community from serious allegations made by multiple citizens in public comments concerning purported improper actions of some officials. The timing of the challenges comports with this concern.  Additionally, the rush to appoint an improperly constituted Board of Registrars G.L. c. 51, § 15) to legitimize the challenge process was also raised in public comments and pursuant Select Board action; a new BoR to replace a temporary one will have to be formed as a result. As the report noted:

The Town Moderator continued this STM three times due to Richter’s challenges– citing MGL 39 §10 which allows one continuance of 14 days based solely on safety – but cited the voter challenges as the basis for continuation. The meeting was finally held on November 28, and voter turnout was high due to interest in voting on contested issues. The meeting was continued again – and this time, properly – on the basis of occupancy concerns, on a motion to move it to Feb 3 and to seek “special legislation” to hold it outside of Truro.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected both propositions and voted instead to hold it as a separate meeting-within a meeting coinciding with – the Annual Town Meeting in May. On December 5, the SB approved [to submit] a “Governor’s Bill” to achieve what the voters rejected on November 28th. Voters will ask the Governor to set this request aside and to honor the voters’ choice for May 4th in Truro and not a weeknight in the dead of winter.

The Board of Registrars, as in a 1950’s flashback, asked nearly every challenged voter about their memberships in various associations. This “litmus” test was meant to harm the organizations and suggest ulterior motives for new voter registrations, whether membership is of a synagogue or mosque, a political party, the Pamet Yacht Club, the Chamber of Commerce or any other organization, membership cannot be used to grant or deny rights. But in this case, they were used that way.  As the report says:

[The] First Amendment protects our right to freedom of association. It is well established that different government actions may unconstitutionally infringe upon this freedom, by imposing “penalties or withhold[ing] benefits from individuals because of their membership in a disfavored group” or by requiring disclosure of the fact of membership in a group. Nearly every challenged voter was asked, over our objection, whether they are a member of the Truro Part-Time Resident Taxpayers’ Association (TPRTA), a nearly 30-year-old civic organization serving the entire community.

Finally, this membership “litmus test” was itself a form of slander, based on two incorrect assumptions:  That TPRTA had done something wrong in encouraging voter registration; and that registering to vote was intended to exert improper influence at and on Special Town Meeting.  On the first, TPRTA was found by the State Election Commission Chief Counsel to have behaved not only lawfully, but in support of proper voter registration activity, an activity which is lawful for non-profits to engage in.  It further noted that this is part of TPRTA’s mission and prior activities for more than 20 years. Indeed, TPRTA was one of several known efforts from May to the present time to lawfully encourage voter registration.   On the second, intention to unduly influence STM, as the report says:

The implication that these 66 “challenged” voters had ulterior or inappropriate motivations to have their voices heard on matters that a) they have a right to vote on, b) they care deeply about, and c) that these motives are unique to them and not the other 85 newly registered voters is entirely spurious and miscast. Voting is meant to influence ballot outcomes. It is neither improper or surprising that eligible voters would want to vote especially at this Special Town Meeting where the outcome would determine the scale of tax burden for a generation to come.

The document included a request to the State Elections Commission:

…that the Elections Division provide much-needed guidance and training to Town Staff and Officials to clarify the requirements for voter registration in the Commonwealth, to ensure that Truro residents can register to vote based on a common understanding with Town officials of the requirements for proper voter registration, and to ensure that any future voter challenges will be conducted in accordance with the law andon a consistent and unbiased basis.

It concluded by saying:

Such training is necessary to ensure that, wherever possible, the choice of the voter as to his or her domicile for voting purposes is respected as required by law. It was not respected at the recent hearings.