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Westport 1-22-11

I heard from a reader about last week's column on the school budget, in particular about the question of whether non-resident property owners should be allowed to vote in school elections. Arguing in favor, this reader suggested I read the case of Kramer vs. Union School District. When I looked it up online, I found it was a 1969 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a provision in Section 2012 of NY State education law denying the vote to residents who don't own or lease property or have children in school (the childless appellant lived with his parents but wanted to vote).

There's a lot of text there, and I admit I didn't read the whole thing. But I did read far enough to see the following: "At the outset, it is important to note what is not at issue in this case. The requirements of 2012 that school district voters must (1) be citizens of the United States, (2) be bona fide residents of the school district, and (3) be at least 21 years of age are not challenged. Appellant agrees that the States have the power to impose reasonable citizenship, age, and residency requirements on the availability of the ballot."

Hmmm. Hardly a slam-dunk for the reader. I then found the surviving parts of Section 2012 itself, which say that a school voter must be "a resident within the district for a period of thirty days next preceding the meeting or election at which he offers to vote." OK, I thought, so what exactly do they mean by "resident"? That took me to Section 22 of NY State election law: "The term 'residence' shall be deemed to mean that place where a person maintains a fixed, permanent and principal home and to which he, wherever temporarily located, always intends to return."

Now I'm just a humble local columnist. I'm no legal eagle. But I wonder, is it even legal under state law to extend the vote to non-residents? Are there communities in NY that do so, and how are they faring? Let me know what you think.

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