Tradition, Swamp Yankees and Archaic Election Laws – Uprise RI

“You don’t live here, you don’t have the right to vote,” said Robert anderson at Bonnet Shores Fire District resident Melissa Jenkins. Anderson won 334 votes in Thursday night’s election for the Bonnet Shores District Fire Council, win a seat.

“I actually live here,” said Melissa Jenkins. “I am a taxpayer and a full-time resident.

“You are a resident. You don’t have the right to vote here, ”Anderson repeated.

“In fact, legally I am. They illegally deny me the right to vote, ”Jenkins retorted.

“This is not true. No court order has been made …” said Anderson.

“The ACLU is on my side…” Jenkins said.

“It’s not a legal decision,” Anderson retorted, then turning her attention to another inhabitant of Bonnet Shores, said: “She’s telling people to leave because they can’t vote,” then, turning back to Jenkins, said: “Don’t ‘do that.

“They don’t legally have the right to vote…” Jenkins began.

“You neither!” Anderson said. “You don’t know what you’re talking about! Ignorance and lies! It’s horrible. Horrible.”

“Please leave me alone,” Jenkins said as Anderson walked away.

UpriseRI was in the Bonnet Shore Fire District election, where about 700 to 800 people gathered in a tent, in the rain, to vote for five vacant positions on the District Fire Council, four vacancies on the Bonnet Shores Land Trust and five vacancies on the nominating committee, which will select candidates for future election.

Under the current interpretation of the law by the Bonnet Shores District Fire Council, only people who own property in the district can vote in the District Fire District elections. Melissa Jenkins is co-owner of the house she shares with her partner, Jean Mangilli, but his name is not on the deed. As a result, she was denied a ballot in 2019 and last night.

John Mangilli and Melissa Jenkins

“As in 2019, I was not allowed to vote because I am not listed on the deed of ownership of the house that my husband and I jointly own,” Jenkins wrote to UpriseRI on Friday morning, accompanied by a photo of the results of Thursday’s final vote. the night election. “I am a full-time resident registered to vote at this address. Many other neighbors are disenfranchised as well, but honestly that doesn’t matter. We are ridiculously outnumbered by commercial real estate shareholders who have been told they can vote. It is not legal and it is certainly not democratic.

Jenkins is one of the founders of Love your beanie, a group of residents who want to change the way elections are conducted in the Fire District. Currently, owners are allowed to vote, even though the property they own is a small cabin, essentially a cloakroom at the Bonnet Shores Beach Club. In addition, these owners are allowed to vote by proxy.

How it played out in Thursday’s election is that of the 700 to 800 people who attended the in-person election, 2,754 votes were cast for open council positions. Proxy votes apparently outnumbered 2-to-1 in-person votes.

the Rhode Island ACLU is suing Bonnet Shores on behalf of Jenkins and other disenfranchised Bonnet Shores residents.

“The right to vote is extended to all owners, not just residents,” wrote ACLU lawyers in the lawsuit. “Thus, business interests such as the Bonnet Shores Beach Club can cast their vote through an authorized representative, while Plaintiff Melissa Jenkins, a natural person, is unable to vote. In addition, the 4,948 co-owners of the 930 “cabins” and “baths” of the Bonnet Shores Beach Club [BSFD] everyone has one vote, regardless of how many times – if any – they visit BSFD during the year. These owners can be individuals, real estate companies, limited liability companies, family trusts or any other “person” in the broad sense of the law. Thus, many for-profit business enterprises have more of a say in the definition of local property taxes and traffic rules than those who live in the BSFD and are subject to these ordinances. These “cabins” are not residences, many of which are not large enough to meet minimum housing requirements. In contrast, Applicant Jenkins, a year-round resident, is denied the right to vote. And the exercise of the vote by cabin owners who are not otherwise residents of BSFD mathematically dilutes and weakens the impact of the vote cast by resident applicants eligible for the BSFD vote.

The power of a watered-down vote was easy to see in the election tent on Thursday night.

The process of conducting the vote was laborious. First of all, those who arrived had to queue. One woman told me that it took her 90 minutes to cross the line, receive a ballot, and receive a bracelet that would guarantee her the right to speak at the meeting and vote. Some online not only had to validate their eligibility vote under the Bonnet Shore rules, but also claim multiple mail-in ballots. At nightfall, the meeting, twice delayed due to long lines, began.

Without this bracelet, you wouldn’t even have the right to speak in elections.

It was explained that five positions were open to the Council, two terms of two years and three terms of three years. “The five candidates who will obtain the most votes will draw lots. There will be three long straws and two short straws, okay? Said the moderator, explaining the process. Those who draw long straws get three-year terms, short straws, two. “The Nominating Committee told me that this was something that had been done in 1869 for a Senate position.

People knowingly laughed at this invocation of tradition. Tradition is important at Bonnet Shores, and tradition is the way “individuals, real estate companies, limited liability companies, family trusts or anyone else[s]”In the broad sense of the law” perpetuate a system which privileges their patrimonial interests to the detriment of the rights of citizens to fair elections.

Candidates for vacancies often prefaced their two-minute campaign speeches by mentioning how long they had lived in Bonnet Shores, how deeply they were rooted in the community and how much they valued the traditions of the Fire District. and the status quo. Some of the comments made by the candidates and those who support the candidates:

“She has been a member of the community for over 40 years”
“He has owned Bonnet since 1998”
“I have lived in Bonnet Shores since June 1973”

Candidates danced around the controversial voting issue, talking about protecting community ties, not disrupting them, and bringing messages of unity, despite the differences. Steve danuszar, a council candidate, went so far as to disavow the wording of a leaflet issued in favor of himself and other Bonnet Shores candidates supported by the status quo. The flyer featured a list of approved candidates, with a note at the top that read:

NOTE: Love Your Bonnet ‘and’ Concerned Citizen ‘are groups of independent residents. They are NOT affiliated with the Bonnet Shores Fire District.

“The flyer says they are not affiliated with Bonnet Shores. Obviously this is wrong, I just want to be clear, ”Danuszar said, to applause. “These other groups that are mentioned on this thing, have different views than the ones we’re asking you to vote for on this …”

Candidate Robert Anderson, who engaged with Melissa Jenkins at the top of that piece, told the crowd she could tell by his accent that he was a “son of the country,” a “Swamp Yankee.” Traditionally, “Yankee” is understood in terms of being a hard worker, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps type of person. Rhode Island’s unique term “Swamp Yankee” conjures up the ideas of a person less urban than a traditional Yankee, the North American version of a “good old boy” from the South. Using this term, Anderson invoked the values ​​of nativism and tradition with the values ​​expressed in archaic election laws that tie the right to vote to property, a concept as old, sexist and racist as the United States itself. same.

After the candidates gave their speeches, the voting began. It was a question of depositing the ballots in the ballot boxes in front of the room. All the ballots were counted that evening.

What is the future? It is not known how long it will take for the ACLU trial to run its course. It is not known whether the results of this election will be overturned by the courts if they rule against the Fire District.

“Hundreds of people who do not live in Bonnet showed up at the annual meeting and voted for the people the private commercial beach club told them to vote for,” Melissa Jenkins wrote the day after the election. “This is what happened. The residents of Bonnet have rallied, but there’s not much you can do when your own board (all of the beach club shareholders) prepares the nominations and runs the meeting, allowing non-residents to vote and have proxies for the many people on their beach closet deeds. We knew this would happen. There are 800 homes out of the 4000+ commercially divested beach closet owners.

“This unconstitutional election should not have taken place and should be overturned.”

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