Voters in Red Hook’s school district were forced to vote by paper ballot May 21 after both voting machines broke down.
According to Board of Education clerk Karen Christensen, the lever voting machines had mechanical failures at roughly the same time as the first votes were being cast in the polling station at Mill Road Elementary School.
Despite the switch, the school district’s $48,407,621 million budget passed by a margin of 64 percent, and all four propositions on the budget also passed in what election officials called an average voter turnout.
Christensen, who was responsible for facilitating the voting process with the team of appointed election inspectors, said a Board of Elections machine custodian worked until 5 pm to fix the machines with no results. The machines were originally owned by the town and were thought to date back to 1958, according to one election inspector who could remember them from that period. The school district purchased them for $50 each from the town several years ago when the county began to require new optical scan machines for the elections run by the town.
“The thing that bothers me is that it’s going to cost so much to replace them, just for the school budget vote. That’s why we kept them as long as we could,” Christensen said. School officials said they would wait to learn more about why the machines failed before making a decision on what method to use next year.
After a quick consultation with the school district’s attorney, the local board of elections set up a plan to use paper ballots, with cardboard privacy screens for voters to use while filling out the ballots. Once completed, the ballots were placed in a cardboard box with a hole cut in the top.
Early voters used official absentee ballots before the school’s attorney confirmed the plan to use paper ballots. Christensen said that paper ballots are always made available for those who do not appear on voter rolls to complete with an affidavit, so it was simply a matter of printing enough for all the voters.
Christensen said that each time a box filled, it was taped shut, signed and dated, and locked in the school district offices.
When it came time to count the ballots, the 12 election inspectors gathered and paired off in twos at the same tables that the ballots had been filled out on minutes before.
According to Schools Superintendent Paul Finch, one inspector would read the ballot out loud and the other would record it, to ensure accuracy. The chair of the board of elections, Thomas Turchetti, was on hand to watch over the process and help inspectors with any questions. The counters toiled for approximately two hours, completing the count shortly after 11pm.
“It’s a perfectly valid way to vote, they’re just harder to count,” said school district Business Administrator Bruce Martin. He added that the ballots will be stored at the district offices according to board of election policy.
By the final count, 887 voters approved the budget and 495 voted no, for a total of 1,382, or a margin of 64 percent. In the end, the numbers weren’t very different from last year’s vote, which saw the budget passed by 68 percent with almost 1,500 voting.
All four propositions on the ballot also passed: for the new bus, 932 voted yes, 468 no; the Mill Road School capital projects passed 863 to 486; and the student representative position on the school board was re-approved 1,010 to 349.
Johanna Moore received 1,027 votes and Kelly Mosher received 1,044 in their uncontested school board re-election bids.
“I think voters appreciate our efforts to rein in costs while trying to maintain the quality educational programs for which Red Hook is known,” Mosher, the school board president, told The Observer after the voting results were tallied. “It was a good day for Red Hook schools. And Johanna and I are both looking forward to serving the district for another 3 years.”