By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — SALISBURY — The Board of Registrars will not investigate the residency and voter eligibility issues swirling around local real estate agent and recent selectman’s candidate Thomas Saab, after he took an option offered by the town clerk and voluntarily removed his name from the Salisbury voter list.
Saab’s residency and candidacy were challenged by the Rev. Dr. Robert Gallagher after he learned that Saab, a candidate in the recent selectmen’s race, still held a New Hampshire’s driver’s license and his car had remained registered in Salem, N.H., where he formerly lived. Saab claims, however, he’s been a permanent resident in Salisbury for the past two years.
Gallagher’s challenge continued on the grounds that, in spite of the fact that Saab had been listed on Salisbury’s list of registered voters since March 29, 2000, he remained on the voter checklist in Salem, N.H., under an “active” status, as of this April 30, the day of Salisbury’s election.
Salisbury’s Board of Registrars met to consider Gallagher’s challenge last week. Town Clerk Wilma McDonald told the three town-appointed registrars that upon the advice of Town Counsel Lauren Goldberg, she sent Saab a letter on April 29, informing him of the challenge and the registrars’ meeting, However, the letter, which McDonald said was mostly written by Goldberg, also offered Saab a way out of the controversy with no further investigation.
“If you have in fact moved from the Town of Salisbury or believe that you are no longer properly registered to vote in the Town, you may, of course, voluntarily remove your name from the voters list pursuant to (Massachusetts General Law, Chapter) 51, (section) 38,” McDonald wrote. “Be informed that if you do request removal of your name from the voters list, either by requesting same directly in writing or registering to vote somewhere else, the Board of Registrars will take no further action regarding the complaint.”
As a result of McDonald’s letter, the day after he lost the election, Saab’s letter, dated May 1, arrived at the town clerk’s office written on Saab’s business stationery listing his North End Boulevard address. Saab wrote in his letter that given McDonald’s offer, he was “officially” requesting his name “be removed from the Town of Salisbury’s voter list.” Saab also apologized for any inconvenience.
Attached to Saab’s letter to McDonald was a copy of another also dated May 1, but addressed to the Salem, N.H., town clerk. With his Salem, N.H., property address listed, Saab asked his name be removed from Salem’s voter list.
McDonald said Saab can re-register to vote in Salisbury, but added that he promised her that when he did, he will have a Massachusetts license and his car registered in-state.
McDonald recommended to registrars Walter Sidley, Robert Becotte and Chairman Thomas Keane, that they take no further action because Saab took his name off the voter list.
During the discussion, Gallagher requested the registrars nullify Saab’s candidacy. McDonald said she didn’t know if the registrars had the authority to do that, but that she would ask the town’s attorney.
Gallagher also said the registrars shouldn’t drop their investigation, saying it appeared “evasive,” that they should proceed and get to the truth of the issue.
“I’m concerned with accountability here,” Gallagher said. “This could set a bad precedent.”
Saab was registered to vote simultaneously in both Salisbury and Salem, N.H., and the possibility exists that he could have voted in both states. The registrars were asked if they would call Salem to get his voting record to ensure that hadn’t happened. Sidley and McDonald were adamant that the board would not take that step.
“It’s not in our purview to do that kind of investigation,” Sidley said. “We can’t cross state lines.”
However, when questioned, McDonald confirmed that there is regular communication between her office and those of town clerks in other states. For example, she confirmed, that if a Hampton, N.H., resident moved to Salisbury and registered to vote there, she would notify Hampton’s town clerk so the former resident’s name could be removed from that checklist.
McDonald also confirmed that the Board of Registrars did have the authority to investigate challenges such as Gallagher’s and could even request assistance from the police.
Sidley said that even though an official from the Salem town clerk’s office said Saab was on Salem’s voter checklist with a status of active, it could be a mistake on Salem’s part. And he insisted the board could not, and would not, make a phone call to Salem to find if a mistake had been made or if Saab had voted in Salem while also registered in Salisbury.
Becotte and Keane sought to continue the hearing in order to seek further guidance from town counsel. But Sidley and McDonald lobbied and offered motions to drop the case. Becotte eventually capitulated, but Keane didn’t approve it. The motion passed with three affirmative votes.
McDonald said if evidence does surface that indicates Saab voted in two different communities, she would send it to the secretary of state.