(No) Fun with Domicile (cont.): Butte County, CA Copes With Aftermath of Camp Fire

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Butte County, CA is bracing for significant changes to its voter registration list in the aftermath of last year’s devastating Camp Fire, which left many residents without homes – and at new addresses. The Oroville Mercury-Register has more:

Butte County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs said voter registration in the county is “in flux” right now following the population shift after the Camp Fire — and it’s yet unclear how many county voters will still be registered in their home districts by the next election cycle.

Grubbs said in the upcoming months, her office will start an information campaign with social media and postcards designed to educate evacuees who have moved to various new counties throughout California, and even to other states.

“People are going to be confused, we’re going to have a lot of cleanup as they try to re-register to vote,” Grubbs said.

The biggest challenge is likely to be distinguishing between people who are still hoping to return to their homes as opposed to those who have moved on:

At the heart of evacuees’ re-registration process will be learning the difference between a domicile and a residence, she said.

Camp Fire victims who wish to return to their home in the burn area can continue voting in their home district, but will need to re-register with a residence address they can be reached at, and also list the address of their “domicile” within the voting district in question.

Traditionally, your “residence is where you live for the time being, Grubbs said, and a domicile is the place you intend to eventually return to, and remain; the process is similar to how military members vote when stationed away from home, she explained.

But Camp Fire victims that have officially moved to another residence, and don’t plan on returning to their previous Butte County residence, will also need to re-register and vote in their new district — wherever that may be.

“It’s going to change the voter registrations drastically if people list Chico as their new home,” Grubbs said…

Evacuees that aren’t returning to their former homes could have a big effect on voting in districts and cities elsewhere in Butte County, too. Grubbs said that in the November 2018 election, just two days before the Camp Fire, there were 122,691 registered voters in Butte County. 16,536 of them were in Paradise, and in the 5th District (which includes much of the Camp Fire burn scar) there were 27,797.

As of Jan. 17, when she last checked the numbers, Grubbs said total registration in Butte County had dropped slightly, to 122,101 registered voters; Paradise and the 5th District were both down by about 2,000 voters. The city of Chico, which Grubbs said fluctuates with the university’s graduation each year, was currently up — from 49,305 in November 2018 to 50,350. Grubbs said it’s much harder to pick out the numbers for Concow, which wasn’t technically a city, but fell within Butte County’s unincorporated area.

“There’s a lot of flux, and it’s going to be a moving target,” Grubbs said. “I’m waiting for things to settle down.”

There also may not be too much time for the County to figure it all out, depending on local events:

Grubbs also said the next election may be sooner than people think — she’s waiting to find out if a special election will need to be called in District 3 in the fall. But the next countywide election isn’t officially on the books until March 2020.

“I think another month will give us a much clearer view,” Grubbs said. “We have a while for this to shake out.”

Obviously, voter registration isn’t anywhere near the top of the list of concerns after a disaster like the Camp Fire, but the issues this story raises are going to recur whenever there is an event that results in the forced relocation of households – relocations that recent history tells us can cross state lines and affect huge numbers of voters. Thinking about what situations like this require is, unfortunately, something that election officials and their voters are going to have to confront for the foreseeable future. Stay safe – and stay tuned …

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