Low voter turnout a problem in several towns

The low voter participation that was seen in the recent townwide budget vote is not a problem Wilton suffered alone, among its Fairfield County neighbors.

In neighboring Ridgefield, which has a referendum, turnout was low, at 10.8%. It was, in fact, the lowest in a dozen years, but observers said that was probably due to the fact that voting coincided with a fierce thunderstorm that brought tornadoes to some areas of the state.

The budget there did pass. Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi had two words to say about how to increase public interest in the process: “social media,” he said in an email.

In Weston, where the budget passed in a referendum with an admittedly low 10% turnout, Town Clerk Donna Anastasia suggested that the way to increase participation is to include a controversial question on the ballot.

For example, a vote in Weston on whether the town should have a dog park drew 1,700 voters, much more than the 648 who voted on the budget.

“I think a lot of people believe the budget will pass anyway, so they don’t bother to vote,” Anastasia told The Bulletin.

Nearby Easton’s municipal budget did pass, but the percentage of voters participating was very low, 698 voters, for a 12.6% turnout.

In neighboring Redding, the turnout was actually higher than in previous years, at a reported 30%, but the budget did not pass, said First Selectwoman Julia Pemberton.

Wilton voters approved a fiscal year 2019 budget and three additional questions at the Annual Town Meeting by overwhelming majorities earlier this month.

Even if the budget had not passed on the number of votes it received, it would have passed anyway because turnout was just 13.04%. When fewer than 15% of eligible voters cast ballots, the budget automatically passes.

The turnout disappointed First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, who told The Bulletin, “One of the many goals I set for myself as first selectwoman was to exceed a 15% turnout every year that I was in office. Therefore, I am personally disappointed that despite increased turnout efforts, we only achieved 13% turnout.

“While it is still fresh in residents’ minds, I’ll be putting out a short survey in an attempt to understand why residents don’t vote and if we can do something different to facilitate voting.” She said on May 29 she would announce when the survey is to be executed.

In New Canaan, to the south, the budget passed in April via the Town Council, not by referendum, so voter turnout was not an issue.

It was not a problem experienced in neighboring Westport, either.

There, First Selectman Jim Marpe said Westport has a representative town meeting (RTM) form of government, so direct citizen participation in the budget vote is not an issue. “Our RTM voted unanimously (32-to-0, with four members absent) to approve the Board of Finance proposed budget,” Marpe said.