Non-resident voting status called into question

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(Host) A group of non-resident property owners wants its members to become more active in local election decisions, in part, to help reduce property tax burdens. But the Vermont Tax Department says the group may be distributing inaccurate information about voting and taxpayer liability.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The Vermont Non-Residents Taxpayers Association has told its members that it’s possible to change their legal residence to Vermont in order to vote here, without losing the tax advantages of living in another state. A number of retired people who own property in Vermont, spend just over six months of the year in a southern state to avoid being liable for Vermont income taxes.

Association spokesperson Harvey Gray says these people can switch their voting residence to Vermont without having to pay state income taxes here. Gray says that Vermont law is inconsistent on this issue. He says out of state students are allowed to vote in Vermont if they declare Vermont as their primary residence and he thinks non-residents should be able to do the same thing:

(Gray) “Both parties, or maybe nowadays all parties, aggressively go to the university towns and sign up new voters. They are doing it without any validity in terms of their residency status for tax purposes.”

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says non-resident property owners can register to vote in Vermont, but to do so, they must declare Vermont as their primary residence:

(Markowitz) “We have situations, for example, where a Vermonter who’s lived in Waterbury all their life retires to Florida and actually is in Florida for seven or eight months of the year. They can continue to count Vermont as their primary residence, the house where they lived all their lives, even though they’re spending more time in Florida. And that’s because the test is a subjective test in Vermont. It’s not based on the number of days or the number of nights you slept in a particular place. It’s based on where the voter designates their principle residence to be.”

(Kinzel) And according to the General Counsel of the Vermont Tax Department, Molly Bachman, if a person declares Vermont as their primary residence and they own property in the state, the Tax Department is most likely going to consider them Vermonters for tax purposes, which means they’ll need to file a state income tax return:

(Bachman) “You can only have one domicile for tax purposes. And to determine what a person’s domicile is, it’s necessary to look at all the facts and circumstances that point to where their true domicile is. One of those factors and an important one is where their primary residence is. Another factor is where they do things like register to vote or register their cars.”

(Kinzel) Bachman says the Vermont Tax Department looks at each case based on its individual circumstances but she says the Department will not hesitate to investigate possible violations of the state’s domicile law.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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