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The Appeals Court Takes a Holistic View of Residency Requirements for Elected Officials

Is the residence of a candidates for election different from their domicile for voting purposes? The Massachusetts Appeals Court says no in its recent opinion in Lay v. City of Lowell.

In Lay, a vacancy arose on the Lowell School Committee. The person who received the most votes among the defeated candidates was due to fill the vacancy. The local election commission, however, declared the candidate to be ineligible, finding that he was not a resident of Lowell. It relied upon a homestead exemption the candidate recorded on property in Brighton, city records showing him as owning property in Lowell but showing his address as in Brighton, and the fact that his motor vehicle is not taxed in Lowell. The candidate stated that he co-owned both the property in Brighton and the property in Lowell with his sister, that he lived in the Lowell property while his sister lived in the Brighton property, and that he voted in Lowell and used his Lowell address for documents including his driver’s license and real estate license.

The Appeals Court held that the residency requirement for local officials was the same concept as “domicil” for purposes of state court jurisdiction and residency in voter registration cases. Factors to be considered included the “the physical, business, social, and civic activities of the person whose domicile is in question.” It rejected the City’s contention that domicile was something different than residency, and also rejected the argument that the tax records were superior evidence of residency to property records, voting records, and the address on the candidate’s driver’s license. The Court ruled that the Election Commission’s decision was wrong as a matter of law and upheld the Superior Court’s determination that the candidate was eligible for office in Lowell.


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