BAR HARBOR — “Sirohi is an extraordinarily articulate, knowledgeable and committed attendee. She can speak, but she can’t vote,” said Town Council member Jill Goldthwait, while she introduced a motion at the Town Council meeting last week.
Goldthwait brought forward the discussion because Sirohi Kumar had been appointed to the Bar Harbor Climate Task Force, and while she can participate, she does not have a vote. “Sirohi is 16 now and she was 15 when it started; we wanted to bring this forward to the council so she could vote. We are hoping to change this to enable Sirohi to be a full participant of the task force,” she said.
Chapter 31 of Bar Harbor’s municipal code explains that only “registered voters” are permitted to vote on boards, committees and commissions. This “registered voter” change was presented by a citizen petition and approved in June of 2019.
The proposed change to the ordinance overseeing boards, committees and commissions would replace the term “registered voter” with “resident.” After the proposal was made, a conversation was initiated about the difference between a registered voter and a resident, with respect to voting. Some members and guests felt this was not fair to local committee and board members who are not registered to vote but who reside and contribute to the town. During the hearing, attendees heard from one person who identified herself as a professor at College of the Atlantic who lived in the community and wanted to contribute but could not register to vote because she was a citizen of another country.
But what is a resident? Bar Harbor town documents have two different definitions that describe residency. One is a description written in the general assistance ordinance and the other is the residency requirement outlined in state statute that govern voting in an election.
After a lengthy discussion attempting to accurately define a Bar Harbor resident, the council passed a motion defining residency as, “Resident of the town of Bar Harbor; meaning they have no other residence and are physically present.” The council voted unanimously on the definition and to replace “registered voter” in the ordinance.
One in favor of this change was Bar Harbor resident Donna Karlson who felt that a clearly written definition of a resident would be helpful. “I’ve heard some discussion about including people who are not 18. I would like to open it up to COA students and those who are 16 and 17 to weigh in on certain issues,” said Karlson.
In disagreement, resident Carole Chaperole said she did not know why the ordinance was proposed to be amended at this time since it had recently been changed to registered voter through the citizen petition process. “It passed by a vote of 590 to 291, almost 2-1, a year and a half ago,” she said.
Town officials and participating attendees were reminded by Goldthwait that the change solely regarded boards, committees and commissions. “This is not about younger people voting in municipal elections,” she said.