Tisbury Prods Captain Douglas on His Right to Vote in Town


For the first time in more than 20 years, the Tisbury board of registrars plans to challenge the residency of one of the town's voters.

At issue is whether Robert S. Douglas, founder of the Black Dog Tavern and captain of the schooner Shenandoah, has the right to vote in Tisbury, by claiming a residence on Beach street extension while actually living in West Tisbury.

The board sent Mr. Douglas a letter on Oct. 8 asking him to remove his name from the town voting list, said town clerk Marion Mudge. She heard back from an assistant to Mr. Douglas, who said he would not voluntarily withdraw, Ms. Mudge said.

If they choose to do so, board members will now file a complaint and bring Mr. Douglas before them for a residency hearing.

The action follows an incident last March, in which Mr. Douglas testified at a residency hearing for his son Jamie, who was running for selectman.

At that hearing, Mr. Douglas said he lives in West Tisbury, but later added: "Since 99 per cent of my life and enterprises, business, everything I do is centered in Vineyard Haven . . . I use Vineyard Haven as my voting residency address."

Mr. Douglas, who has voted in Tisbury for 40 years, was off-Island and could not be reached for comment this week.

At the hearing, he explained that he owned a home in Vineyard Haven for 30 years, which he lived in for two decades before moving to West Tisbury. He kept the Vineyard Haven house until 1992, when he sold it and changed his residency address to the apartment on Beach street extension, "an apartment over my shop."

Mr. Douglas' address appears as 20 Beach street extension on this year's annual street listing for the town of Tisbury. The telephone book has his address as Indian Hill Road, West Tisbury.

State law requires that a voter be a resident of the town in which he registers.

"We would rather avoid a confrontational hearing and give him a graceful way out," said Ms. Mudge, a member of the board of registrars.

"At a hearing we would be glad to hear any reasons we may not be aware of as to why [Mr. Douglas] should still be counted as a resident of this community," said the Rev. Alden Besse, another member of the board. "We are only trying to abide by the law, and the law says you have to be a resident to vote. If you move to another town, your name has to be withdrawn."

"There have been numerous complaints about Mr. Douglas's residency [over the years], but no one wanted to be responsible for bringing a challenge, because then it is up to the person who makes the complaint to provide proof," said Ms. Mudge.

She said the board has the authority to bring a challenge, but usually does not because "then we are the judge and jury."

Ms. Mudge added: "But now that the captain has made a statement under oath, we felt we had to address the issue. Bottom line: He should register to vote where he lives."

In the March hearing, Jamie Douglas's Tisbury residency was upheld, and he continued in the selectman's race, losing at the polls.