Full-Time RVers’ Voting Lawsuit Dismissed
A federal judge on Wednesday (Feb. 20) dismissed a lawsuit filed by full-time RVers who were bumped from the Tennessee voter rolls because they live on the open road.
According to The Associated Press, Bradley County officials who dropped 286 RV owners from the rolls in 2006 did not violate their right to vote or their right to travel, U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier ruled.
The lawsuit, filed by three of the RV owners in November, said the purged retirees had registered in Tennessee using the street address and box number of a business that forwards their mail. Some of the retirees said they chose Tennessee for residency because there is no state income tax.
State election officials said residency means more than a mail box number, and Collier said that is a valid law.
The lawsuit contended the state treated RVers differently from homeless people, but the judge’s ruling said “homeless people are residents of the place they live, even if that place is a park bench, while plaintiffs have not clearly pointed to any place they live.”
Tricia Herzfeld, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union-Tennessee who represents the RVers, said she was talking with them about options that include a possible appeal. She declined to comment further.
Although some of the retirees said they no longer own property in the state where they previously lived, and in some instances were told they were no longer eligible to return and register, Tennessee Election Coordinator Brook Thompson said “they never lost residency where they came from.”
Thompson said Wednesday that he had not seen the decision and that the rule has always been that you have to move to Tennessee with an intent to remain a resident, even if you travel.
One of the purged retirees, Mike Bruner, said the ruling was “just disheartening.”
The 61-year-old said he and his wife have been traveling since selling their home in Missouri. Bruner said he purchased the mailbox in Bradley County in 2002 and used that address to vote in the 2004 presidential election.
“Not being able to express our feelings on our vote seems to be a right denied,” Bruner said in a telephone interview from Houston. “We feel we are a very patriotic couple and want to express our view with our vote, and that is not going to happen.”
The Census Bureau says more than 105,000 Americans live full-time in RVs, boats or vans, though one RV group says the number is more like half a million. Many RV full-timers are registered in one of nine states that have no general personal income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.
In 2000, a federal judge in Texas sided with more than 9,000 RV full-timers after county officials challenged their eligibility to vote. The RVers used a mail-forwarding service.