TRURO — After four straight days of hearings last week, 35 of the 66 people whose voter registrations were challenged by Raphael Richter before the special town meeting deadline are no longer on the Truro rolls.
Twenty-one of the 35 switched their voter registrations out of Truro voluntarily. The other 14 were removed from the rolls by the board of registrars following public hearings at the Truro Community Center.
The town issued a press release on Monday announcing that the special town meeting originally scheduled for Oct. 21 would be postponed a third time. “Pursuant to GL.c.39, §10 and, consistent with the opinion of Town Counsel, KP Law, and at the request of the Town Clerk,” the press release states, “the Special Town Meeting will be continued to November 28, 2023 at 5:30 p.m. at the Truro Central School.”
The meeting was first continued by Town Moderator Paul Wisotzky to Nov. 2 and then to Nov. 16. The press release also says, “We anticipate that this will be the final continuance.”
This latest delay of the meeting will allow the registrars to hear two administrative appeals from voters who have been struck from the rolls.
Of the 14 voters removed by the registrars, 10 did not show up for a hearing or have a family member present in their stead. An 11th registrant who was removed, Rosemary Boyle, was represented by Brian Boyle, her ex-husband.
According to Town Manager Darrin Tangeman, Boyle is one of the two voters who have appealed the registrars’ decision. She “was allowed an appeal because she wasn’t physically present during her hearing,” Tangeman said. Rosemary Boyle did not respond to a call requesting comment.
The process for appealing the registrars’ decisions looks different for those who showed up to be heard than it does for those who didn’t. According to the state manual on residence for voting purposes, after a hearing, “The losing party may appeal the registrars’ decision to superior court in a civil action against the registrars.”
But the rules are more lenient if a challenged party didn’t show up. “If a voter fails to appear at the hearing and the complainant produces enough evidence to show the registrars that the voter should not be registered, the voter’s name shall be removed from the list of voters; however, the hearing must be reopened if the voter appears before the registrars prior to the next election or town meeting and makes an acceptable explanation of why she or he did not appear,” the manual states.
Rose Bayani is the other registrant who was removed from the voter rolls and has decided to appeal her case. Like Boyle, Bayani claims a residential tax exemption (RTE) at her home in Boston. According to the complaint filed against her by Raphael Richter, Bayani also is not on the Truro street listing, does not pay vehicle excise tax in town, and does pay personal property tax (which is assessed only on nonresidents).
Bayani arrived in town on Thursday, Nov. 9 and discovered the constable’s summons on her deck, she said. It was too late for her to attend her hearing, which the registrars had completed on Tuesday. Bayani decided to do some research, she said, which did not sway her conviction that she is a legitimate Truro voter.
“I’m more informed because I just didn’t know what was happening,” Bayani said, “so I kind of caught myself up.”
Bayani told the Independent on Monday that she sent an email on Friday requesting that her case be reopened. She added that she had joined a group of registrants represented by lawyer Donna Brewer “because I feel that I should have a right to vote.”
Gonzalo Castro was among the challenged registrants represented by Brewer, of the Wellesley firm Harrington Heep. Castro, whose name was struck from the rolls after he appeared for an in-person hearing on Nov. 6, said he will not be appealing the registrars’ decision.
“I have better things to do with my time,” he told the Independent on Monday, although he did not think the proceedings were fair. “I think that the decision was made before they even talked to me,” Castro said.
Brewer and her colleague, Andrew Bettinelli, objected frequently during the hearings to questions about whether their clients were members of the Truro Part-Time Resident Taxpayers Association (TPRTA) and about the location and nature of their jobs.
On Nov. 8, the third evening of hearings, the registrars took up a challenge to Brewer’s client Thomas Engellenner.
When Richter asked Engellenner where he files his taxes, Brewer objected. “I’m not going to allow him to answer that,” she said. “We have specific challenges with specific reasons, and you are going far afield of that with that question. That is wholly, wholly intrusive.”
“Overruled,” board of registrars chair Elisabeth Verde said. “He has the opportunity to speak if he wants to.”
When Verde asked about Engellenner’s associations with boards and committees in Newton, where he was registered to vote until early October, Brewer objected again. “We’re looking at the ties to Truro,” she said. “If you start, as a government, asking about all his other associations, then you’re interfering with his right to freedom of association. You’re not permitted to ask about those.”
“So noted,” Verde said. “I don’t agree, and I’d also like to give him an opportunity to answer if he chooses to.” Engellenner responded that he is no longer on any boards in Newton, though he’s on the board of the ALS Therapy Development Institute, a nonprofit in Cambridge. The registrars allowed him to remain on the Truro rolls.
During other hearings, Bettinelli objected to questions about TPRTA membership because he said the question dealt with political affiliation, which is not relevant to people’s right to vote.
According to David Sullivan, an expert on voting rights who drafted the state’s manual on residence for voting, “the purpose of an objection is to ask the tribunal, which in this case is the board of registrars, to exclude irrelevant information.” When a reporter listed the questions that prompted objections from the Harrington Heep attorneys, Sullivan said, “I certainly think the kinds of questions that you mentioned are relevant.”
According to an Oct. 10 memo from town counsel, no single piece of evidence is decisive in determining a person’s domicile. Relevant facts include where income taxes are filed and the location of bank accounts and “religious, social and political affiliations, such as clubs, board positions, membership in associations, involvement in municipal activities.”
Engellenner voted in a Newton election in March of this year. “It is everybody’s right to transition, but I’m not sure you should be able to transition such that you’re voting in two communities in Massachusetts in the exact same calendar year,” Richter said.
Dyanne Klein, also represented by Brewer, voted in a Boston election one day before switching her registration to Truro. She claims the RTE on her residence in Boston. Asked by Richter what changed in that one day, Klein responded that she had voted absentee, so the period was actually a couple of weeks long.
“From whenever I did the absentee ballot, I realized that this is where I am all the time,” Klein said. Klein declined to answer Richter’s questions about whether she is part of the TPRTA and where she files her taxes. The registrars upheld her Truro registration.
Hearings to Come
Tangeman said Tuesday that the town intends to hear Bayani’s and Boyle’s appeals on either Friday, Nov. 17 or Monday, Nov. 20.
As of that day, he said, those two were still the only appeals. The town had not gotten word of any appeals filed in superior court.
An additional four voters were challenged by Monica Kraft and Jon Slater; all four challenges will result in hearings. Because those challenges were filed after Oct. 17, town meeting will not have to wait for those decisions, Tangeman said, based on town counsel’s advice. Still, the town plans to hold them “as soon as possible.”