The ballots didn’t need to be opened before registrars determined Tuesday’s referendum had failed. Early indications of record low voter turnout were enough to signal a failed referendum.
The defeat was confirmed shortly after 8 p.m. when officials announced that only 1,276 people had cast ballots. It was the lowest turnout the town has seen in the decade registrars said they began keeping records.
Even if all of the votes had been in favor of the referendum, a defeat was guaranteed because the minimum number of votes had not been reached. In fact, turnout was more than 1,100 votes short, officials said.
"I've never seen it like this at 8 o'clock," Republican Registrar of Voters Karin Aurelia said of the near empty Newtown Middle School gymnasium just as the polls were about to close.
Democratic Registrar of Voters LeReine Frampton added, "This is pathetic."
On the ballot was a proposed charter revision that would change the way Newtown votes on budget referendums.
If passed, it would have allowed residents to vote down a budget referendum and indicate whether the proposed amount was too high or low – in essence, three choices: “yes,” “no, too low” or “no, too high.” Without the change, voters will continue to cast “yes” or “no” decisions.
The day began with abysmal turnout. Only 345 people voted as of noon, Tuesday -- the worst turnout since 2000 when workers began keeping hourly vote tallies at the polls, officials said. Before that, the lowest noon turnout had been April 23, 2002 when 646 people voted as of noon.
By the end of the night, and including in absentee ballots, officials said 1,014 people voted to approve the charter revision while 261 voted to reject it. One ballot was turned in blank.
State statutes require that referendums be approved by the majority of voters and no less than 15-percent of the voting public -- or about 2,382 people, officials said.
The when the council received conflicting messages on whether voters wanted money slashed from the budget or added – the later of which was the message from education supporters.
Officials believe that by changing the ballot, they will receive more information that will help guide their decision in case the referendum fails.
However, some critics believe the proposed charter revision didn’t go far enough and unsuccessfully lobbied to allow voters to indicate whether money should be added or removed from town or education expenses – additional information those critics believe is key to understanding the reason behind a defeated referendum.
Still other critics said they saw no need to change the process.
Prior to Tuesday, the lowest turnout in the decade officials have been keeping records was on August 12, 2003 when the town held a referendum on Fairfield Hills and 2,323 people voted. The second lowest had been 2,440 during the budget referendum held April 23, 2002.
Aurelia said it costs the town about $5,000 to hold the referendum.