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Campaign calls keep coming for ‘overseas citizens’

Union Leader Correspondent

October 28. 2012 11:05PM

NEW BOSTON - For Linda Shea, it was enough fielding dozens of calls every day from campaigns and pollsters leading up to an election, but when she started getting calls for people who hadn't lived in her house for more than 20 years, she became suspicious that something was amiss.

Shea and her husband bought their home on Mont Vernon Road in New Boston 22 years ago from Robert and Karen Rickey and their three young sons, who moved to England where Karen is a citizen, Shea said. Robert Rickey and the boys, now grown men, are all United States citizens.

Knowing that the Rickeys had long since moved to England, Shea was baffled when she started getting more than her fair share of calls from pollsters and campaigners, so she checked with Sarah Chapman, supervisor of the checklist in New Boston. It turned out that Robert Rickey and his sons are all registered to vote in New Boston.

'Not only does the concept annoy me that an individual and his children who were not even raised here or will be voting in a state election that will have no bearing on their lives at all, but we also get mail and phone calls for them,' Shea wrote in an election law complaint she filed with the Secretary of State's office this week.

But the Rickeys are not registered to vote in state or local elections, according to Deputy Town Clerk Cathy Strausbaugh, but they are registered to vote in federal elections. Strausbaugh said that Robert Rickey and his sons are registered as 'overseas citizens,' which means they no longer reside in the United States, but they retain their right to vote.

On the voter checklist, the Rickeys are identified clearly by their overseas citizen status that allows them access to federal absentee ballots only. Their address on the checklist, as required by federal law, lists their last domicile in the United States.

For Shea's part, she's hoping to reach out to Sen. Kelly Ayotte to explain her situation and to try to change the law so that the people who buy the homes of overseas citizens aren't bombarded with phone calls and mail for folks who don't live there.

'You think about how many of these calls you get every day. I'm getting double, even triple, and they're not even from the same party I belong to,' she said.

Strausbaugh said she hates the constant phone calls as well, though she's not getting nearly as many as Shea, but said the remedy to the problem is simple.

'I just pick up the phone and hang up,' Strausbaugh said. 'And in two weeks, this will be all over.'

Deputy Secretary of State Michael Scanlon said that even if Robert Rickey or his sons flew across the Atlantic to vote in the local elections in New Boston, they wouldn't be able to vote here because of their overseas citizen designation.

'If he were to come and try to vote in a local election, he would have to fill out a new registration form and prove that he was domiciled in New Boston,' said Scanlon.

Scanlon said a small segment of New Hampshire voters, around 5,000, are designated as overseas citizens. Most absentee ballots are sent to members of the military stationed overseas, who also must list their last place of domicile in the United States, though they may no longer live there.

Scanlon also said that because there are so few overseas citizens in New Hampshire, it's rare to get a complaint about a situation like this, but he can understand Shea's confusion, especially because the subject of overseas citizens doesn't come up very often.

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