Barbara Aichinger's Gilford residency affirmed

  • Published in Local News

GILFORD — After listening to testimony and sifting through documents for nearly three hours yesterday morning, the Supervisors of the Checklist — Connie Moses, Irene LaChance and Carol Villaume —  unanimously concluded, in the language of the law, that "it is more likely than not" that Barbara Aichinger is qualified to vote in the town of Gilford.

In what Aichinger called "an act of political intimidation taken in bad faith," town resident Joe Wernig challenged ...

GILFORD — After listening to testimony and sifting through documents for nearly three hours yesterday morning, the Supervisors of the Checklist — Connie Moses, Irene LaChance and Carol Villaume —  unanimously concluded, in the language of the law, that "it is more likely than not" that Barbara Aichinger is qualified to vote in the town of Gilford.

In what Aichinger called "an act of political intimidation taken in bad faith," town resident Joe Wernig challenged her residency after she inspired a handful of taxpayer friendly petitioned warrant articles and announced her candidacy for the Budget Committee. Wernig was nowhere to be seen yesterday when Aichinger responded to his challenge before the three supervisors.

According to state law, a person's domicile for voting purposes is "that one place where a person, more than any other place, has established a physical presence and manifests an intent to maintain a single continuous presence for domestic, social and civil purposes relevant to participating in democratic self-government."

After Wernig made his challenge, the supervisors found that "it is more likely than not" that Aichinger's qualifications were "in doubt" and afforded her 30 days to offer proof of her domicile.

Aichinger was out of the country at the time of Wernig initial challenge but yesterday she began began  her defense by refuting the evidence Wernig offered in support of his claim, namely that her homes in Gilford are listed for rent, her mailing address in is Bedford and her daughter attends school in Bedford.

Aichinger  explained that she and her husband own two homes on Governor's Island and list them for rent for limited periods, noting it is not unusual for waterfront property owners to rent their homes to pay their property taxes. Her residence at 558 Edgewater Drive, she said, was rented for two weeks in 2009 and seven weeks in 2011 while the other home next door is near completion and listed for rent. 

Likewise, Aichinger acknowledged, as Wernig charged, that her mailing address is 36 Olde English Road in Bedford, but said that it is also the mailing address of Future Plus Systems Corporation, the firm she and her husband own and operate. She recalled that when she and her neighbor were in litigation someone took a legal document  from her mailbox and "sprinkled  it all around the island page by page" and since then has had mail sent to the firm.

Although a mailing address is not a legal address, Aichinger said that Wernig, out of either "ignorance or malice," chose to claim they are one and the same. She told the supervisors that many Gilford voters have mailing addresses elsewhere. "It's perfectly legal," she said.

Aichinger told the supervisors that two of her children reside and vote in Gilford while the third and youngest attends school in Bedford, where she resides with her father. "For young girls, the only thing more important than their phone is their friends," Aichinger said, explaining that her daughter chose to keep her friendships through school. Moreover, she said that because "I travel extensively, it makes sense for the youngest child to stay with the parent who travels least. When the family gets together, Aichinger insisted, "they come to us in Gilford."

Next Aichinger offered abundant evidence supporting her claim that she makes her home in Gilford. She changed her legal address to Gilford with the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles in 2008. She holds a pistol permit issued by the Gilford Police Chief. She banks in Gilford. She has frequently attended meetings of the Board of Selectmen, Budget Committee and Planning Board. She hosts political events at her home in Gilford. She has volunteered as a tennis coach in Gilford. She even provided records of credit card purchases indicating that she shops "in and around the town of Gilford" and seldom anywhere else. Moreover, by marking each purchase on calendars for 2009, 2010 and 2011, she recorded her presence in the area.

After pondering the evidence for about an hour, the board abandoned its original doubts and without reservation ruled in Aichinger's favor.

Aichinger expressed her appreciation to the board for their thorough approach to her case. However, at the same time, she suggested much of their time and hers could have been spared had she been able to answer the challenge before the supervisors found her qualifications "in doubt," which set the lengthy investigative process in motion.

Likewise, Aichinger repeated that Wernig's challenge was "a political stunt" designed "to influence the outcome of the election and to defame my character" and  asked if there were way to quickly dispose of such baseless challenges. She said that most voters would not have the time and resources to mount a defense comparable to her own.

Kate Miller, an attorney with Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella, PLLC who was advising the supervisors, said that the supervisors were bound by the process stipulated by state law and not authorized to question the purpose, only the evidence, for challenges to the qualifications of voters.

David "Skip" Murphy, who video recorded the session for his blog — Granite Grok — upon learning that Miller's services cost the town $160 per hour wondered if there was any means of compelling Wernig, who has complained about the cost of frivolous litigation to the town, to foot the bill.

"No," said Miller. "There is no recourse." 

Meanwhile, as the supervisors toiled in Gilford, the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee of the New Hampshire Senate voted unanimously to scuttle a bill that would make it easier to challenge voters. House Bill 1301, which carried the House by a vote of 212 to 129, would eliminate the requirement a person challenging a voter submit an affidavit stating the grounds for the challenge as well as allow challenges to be made on election day at the registration table.