This article was updated on Thursday, Oct. 19.
TRURO — A voter registration drive organized by the board of the Truro Part-Time Resident Taxpayers Association (TPRTA) encouraging part-time residents to register here appears to have resulted in a surge in voter registrations this summer and fall. Scores of those registrations were challenged this week.
Town officials announced on Thursday that the special town meeting planned for this Saturday has been rescheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2 to allow time for the board of registrars to hold hearings on 67 registration challenges. Town Moderator Paul Wisotzky “will exercise his authority pursuant to the provisions of G.L. c.39, §10 to unilaterally continue the October 21, 2023 meeting for up to 14 days,” according to a press release. Depending on the progress of the hearings, Wisotzky may further continue the meeting “for another 14 days,” it said.
The TPRTA’s registration drive was conducted “under the radar,” according to a confidential email sent to the organization’s board by vice president Regan McCarthy on Aug. 6. That email recently surfaced outside the group. “As you know, membership voted unanimously at this year’s annual meeting for TPRTA to spearhead a voter registration effort,” McCarthy’s email begins.
“We have nearly 450 Massachusetts-based member households,” McCarthy wrote. “Imagine what we can accomplish together if we get 30-50 percent of these to register one or two members permanently or even temporarily for the upcoming critical Fall Town Meeting of Saturday, Oct. 21.”
“You have a right as an individual or as a household to declare Truro as your home and to register one or more eligible persons in your household to vote from your Truro home if you wish,” read another email from a tprta.org email account that appears to have been sent to a wider membership circle. “It is our choice and right, if it works for our lives,” the email says.
According to David Sullivan, former legal counsel to the Mass. Secretary of the Commonwealth and an expert on voting rights, that is not how voting works.
“You’ve got to distinguish the right to vote of someone who is an actual resident of the town from someone who is not a legal resident of the town and does not have the right to register to vote there,” Sullivan said. “The voting rights of the true residents of the town are being diluted by people who are registering illegally.”
Sullivan was the original author of the state’s manual on the subject, “Residence for Voting Purposes,” which the town of Truro highlighted on its website on Oct. 13.
McCarthy’s email is labeled “CONFIDENTIAL” in the subject line. McCarthy refused to confirm that she had written the email. She told a reporter that, because the email is confidential, “You shouldn’t have it.”
The email includes a plan of action for a get-out-the-vote campaign using phone banking by members of the organization as well as step-by-step instructions for switching where you vote.
When asked about the voter registration campaign, McCarthy said, “You know very well that other people in this town are phone banking for the same purpose for other reasons. What’s the problem with phone banking?”
McCarthy insisted that her perspective on voting lined up with information presented by Town Counsel Lauren Goldberg of KP Law, who spoke to the select board on Oct. 10 about voter registration.
But experts said that McCarthy’s email is inconsistent with the law. For instance, the email says, “You can also split your household votes if there are tax or other implications at your current primary residence.”
That, Sullivan said, “is very unlikely to be legal.”
The Town’s Response
On Friday, Oct. 13, town officials posted a statement online. “It has come to the Town’s attention that misinformation may be circulating about the standards for voter registration in the Town,” was its first sentence.
On Monday, Oct. 16, Town Manager Darrin Tangeman said that the town was working with counsel to ensure that only legitimately registered voters would be able to vote at the special town meeting.
The state’s voting manual says, “It is essential to understand that residence is an objective concept and not a subjective concept. That is, what counts is not where a person thinks his or her residence is, or wants it to be, but rather where the objective facts show it is.”
The manual also lays out the process for challenging a registration. Any registered voter may file a sworn complaint with evidence, at which point the town’s board of registrars decides whether to hold a hearing.
No single fact determines a person’s residence — but factors that help determine it include residential tax exemptions, business interests, and vehicle registration.
The deadline to challenge a voter’s registration for the Oct. 21 town meeting was Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 5 p.m. Sixty-seven voter registrations were challenged by the deadline, Tangeman said. One of those challenges was later determined to have been received after the deadline, so the number of challenges to be considered was reduced to 66. When the town meeting was rescheduled to Nov. 2, however, that extended the deadline for voter challenges to Oct. 27, and the 67th one was put back on the list.
Changing one’s voter registration can have consequences including the loss of residential privileges — like property tax exemptions, school enrollment, and parking rights — in the voter’s previously declared town.
People who know the rules and register improperly anyway may be committing a crime. “Summer residents who know they are not eligible to register and do so anyway commit a crime that could send them to jail for up to five years,” said Sullivan. “Same for anyone who encourages illegal registration.”
McCarthy said allegations of voter fraud were uncalled for. “They are not committing voter fraud unless you can prove someone is committing voter fraud, and simply to register to vote in Truro is no more fraud than buying a hamburger in Truro is fraud,” she said — though she walked that comment back because “hamburgers are trivial” and “voting is sacred.”
Voting “is something that somebody decides to do after giving great thought to where they feel they want to exercise their right to vote with the most benefit and meaning to them,” McCarthy said. “That should be celebrated.”
McCarthy said she lives in Truro full-time but votes in New York.
“In my opinion,” said state Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro, “after consulting attorneys with expertise in this area of the law, this may be a conspiracy to violate election laws. I can’t determine that, but it may be wise to consult the district attorney.”
“Attempting to commit electoral fraud is reprehensible,” said select board chair Kristen Reed. “The TPRTA has initiated a campaign in Truro meant to jeopardize the fundamental tenets of a lawful and equitable democratic process at our town meeting on Saturday.”
173 New Voters
Since 2018, the number of people registered to vote in Truro has grown by 62 percent — a spike that is unmatched in neighboring towns. Voter rolls in Eastham and Wellfleet have grown by 9 and 10 percent over that same five-year span. Since 2019, Provincetown’s voter roll has grown by 18 percent.
Truro has not had a corresponding increase in population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. ACS data for Truro from 2016 to 2021 show a population decrease of one percent. (ACS population data for 2022 are not yet available.) That same data set shows the town’s voting-age population declining by almost 9 percent from 2016 to 2021.
When the annual town meeting took place in April, there were 2,136 registered voters in Truro. When the window to register to vote for special town meeting closed on Oct. 11, there were 2,309 — a net gain of 173 new voters, according to voter rolls obtained by the Independent.
One hundred nineteen of those new voters registered after July 1, when the TPRTA’s annual meeting voted to pursue a voter registration campaign, according to McCarthy’s email.
Sixty-two of those 119 new voters registered with an in-town home address but an out-of-town mailing address. Based on public records in the town assessor’s databases, the Independent found that 11 of those 62 new registrants are currently claiming residential tax exemptions (RTEs) on their homes in other towns: eight in Boston, and one each in Brookline, Watertown, and Cambridge.
While no single fact determines a person’s residence for voting purposes, Sullivan said, “the fact that they’re claiming a residential exemption somewhere else is strong evidence that they are not legal residents of the town of Truro and are therefore registering illegally.”
What They Say
“I worry that some of the people who registered may not have been aware that they were doing anything untoward,” Cyr said.
Indeed, several newly registered voters seemed not to realize that their switch in registration could potentially land them in legal trouble.
The Independent called all 11 of the new registrants who claim out-of-town RTEs. Two agreed to answer questions; a third, who takes the RTE in Boston where he works as a doctor, declined to be interviewed.
Tobin Gerhart, who switched his voter registration from Brookline to Truro on Aug. 14, said this is not the first time he’s voted in Truro, though he doesn’t consider it his primary residence. “I did this a couple years ago,” Gerhart said, but was frustrated when he got to the polls in Truro and didn’t know the issues. “I actually switched back to voting in Brookline again. But then this year, I switched back again, because it seems like these people are interested, and it will be possible to get good information to make an informed voting choice,” Gerhart said.
Gerhart said he has been a member of the TPRTA for 15 or 20 years. Its newsletter, he said, “is where I get much of my information.” He said the organization contacted him about switching his registration.
Gerhart said he plans to continue taking the RTE in Brookline. “Our primary residence is here, and my wife is here, and she’s not going to switch her voting,” he said. “I’m just doing this for political representation.”
Peter Weiss, who registered to vote in Truro on July 27, takes the RTE at his home in Boston, according to that city’s property database. Weiss said he was not sure whether he claims the RTE: “I leave that up to my accountant.”
Weiss said the main issue drawing him to the special town meeting is the DPW: “It’s a waste of money and a waste of time and it shouldn’t be done on Route 6, which has got enough trouble,” he said, citing traffic.
Weiss said he was encouraged to register to vote in town by the association at Crestview Circle, where his Truro home is.
Sherman Teichman does not take the RTE elsewhere, but he did register to vote with an out-of-town mailing address on Oct. 6, five days before the deadline. He would not comment on the issues spurring his voting change, but said he hoped to attend town meeting and was aware of “the controversy of overexpansion.”
Teichman lives in Brookline and is “associated with the TPRTA,” he said, though they didn’t get him to switch his registration. “I did this of my own initiative,” he said. “No one recruited me. I am alert and aware of all the issues.”
Teichman said he intends to live in Truro full-time in the future, though he is currently a part-timer.
Jesselyn Tobin changed her voter registration from Carlisle to Truro on Oct. 11 — the last day to do so. The main issue drawing her to town meeting is that “they’re asking you to agree to not call it a rural town anymore,” she said.
David Hammerman of Newton switched his voter registration to Truro on Aug. 16 — “a tough decision,” he said, and one ultimately motivated by a sense of “taxation without representation.” He is a TPRTA member and attended its July 1 meeting, where attendees “were encouraged to vote,” he said.
Hammerman is a licensed psychologist with a practice in Newton and is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Reincarnation.
The main issue drawing Hammerman to town meeting is the Walsh property, he said: the plan was initially to build 252 housing units, “and now it’s whittled down to 160, which I think is still too high,” he said.
“Truro is a rural community,” Hammerman said. “I think in between NIMBY and YIMBY, there’s some compromise that needs to be made.”
McCarthy’s email states that “Three leading members of Town official life have asked us to get part-timers to register to vote,” including two former select board chairs and “a current senior official.” It also says that the TPRTA retained a consultant for the voter registration drive who advised the board to keep the effort “under the radar.”
McCarthy would not disclose the names of the three town officials or the consultant.
“This is very unusual,” said Sullivan. In his 46 years practicing elections law, he said, “I can’t remember a situation when, to put it bluntly, nonresidents were trying to take over a town.”
Senior reporter Paul Benson contributed reporting.