(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – Long-time Nevada resident Art Cooke says he is now officially a disenfranchised voter.
After voting in every primary and general election in Carson City for a decade, Cooke sold his Bodie Drive home and became a full-time recreational vehicle resident upon retirement five years ago. Cooke and his wife Rita spend time out-of-state every year, wintering in Yuma, Ariz. and visiting other states in their luxury recreational vehicle.
He has voted in every Carson City election even as a full time RVer, including the June primary, but a recent decision has put his ability to vote in Nevada in the Nov. 2 general election in doubt.
Cooke said he has a mail delivery address in Carson City, all of his vehicles are registered in Nevada, he has a small business in Carson City and his driver’s license is from Nevada. But because he resides in RV parks when he returns to Carson, where utilities and other associated costs are paid as part of the fee, Cooke said he has no utility bill or other satisfactory proof of his physical address to satisfy Nevada’s voter residency requirements.
A voter must show proof of residency at a physical address for 30 days prior to election day to be able to cast a ballot.
Without a specific physical address to provide to Nevada election officials, Cooke has been informed he can no longer vote in Nevada except for president every four years.
“Even if you are homeless in Nevada you must have a physical address,” said Cooke, reached while traveling in Ohio. “I guess as a U.S. citizen and an Army veteran of the Vietnam War I no longer have the right to vote.
“It looks like that I just won’t be able to vote any longer,” he said.
Cooke said he has contacted the ACLU which is now looking into the issue on his behalf.
Carson City Clerk Alan Glover confirmed Cooke’s situation, saying the residency issue has become more common as more people opt to live full time in their recreational vehicles upon retirement.
“We get at least a dozen of these every election,” he said.
Glover said he is sympathetic to Cooke’s dilemma, but that the residency requirements to vote are clear. The proof of residency requirement is part of the Help America Vote Act signed into law in 2002, he said.
“It is especially hard on RVers,” Glover said. “They no longer have a residence within the county, in our case Carson City, therefore they are not entitled to vote in Carson City.”
It is also an issue for the homeless, particularly in Clark County, he said.
Glover said one solution for Cooke would be to establish a residence at an RV park in the city 30 days before the election and register to vote at the address. A rent receipt would be sufficient proof to vote, he said.
Cooke said he did not expect to be back in Carson until just before election day.
Glover said others in similar situations who have family in Carson or another Nevada community will use that residence as their own for purposes of registering to vote, filing taxes and other such activities.
A business address or a drop box for mail is not sufficient for proof of residency for voting, he said.
Glover said the residency requirement has come about because of situations where people have tried to vote in elections where they are not legal residents. Federal officials removed several hundred RVers from the vote rolls in Nye County a few years ago because they were not legal residents in the county and were not eligible to vote, he said.
Rebecca Gasca, public advocate for the ACLU of Nevada, said the residency issue emerged as a major concern in the 2008 election because the foreclosure crisis was forcing many Nevadans out of their homes. The concern prompted Secretary of State Ross Miller to issue a news release saying foreclosed residents who had not changed their addresses still had the right to vote.
Gasca said there are remedies depending on the individual circumstances, such as a homeless person using a shelter as a permanent address.
Given the fact that Nevada’s population is highly mobile, some of the residency issues could be resolved if Nevada followed the lead of some other states and allowed for same day registration right through election day, Gasca said. There would still have to be an intent by the voter to follow the residency requirements, she said.
The ACLU has an acute interest in the issue and will be watching as voting gets under way in the general election starting next month, Gasca said.
Cooke said his problems began when he was called for jury duty. He came back to Carson from Yuma to report and found the case had been resolved. Court officials then said they would remove him from the jury selection list since he was traveling out of state. About two weeks later he received a letter from Carson City election officials saying he was no longer considered to be a resident of the state.
Information Cooke then provided to prove his residency was deemed insufficient for voting purposes.
Cooke was told he would only be allowed to vote for president every four years using a “no fixed address” ballot.
Cooke said he believes the decision is a violation of his constitutional rights, and that he should at least be able to cast ballots for the Nevada statewide races and the federal races.
“I’ve never missed an election,” he said. “This is going to be a tough one.”
Cooke said he planned to vote for Sharron Angle in the hotly contested U.S. Senate race.
“I told the Angle campaign I sure hope you don’t miss it by one vote,” he said.