The number of Wiltonians who vote on the town budget is on the decline, as well as the percentage of those who approve the budget, according to Board of Finance member Jeff Rutishauser’s findings.
During the finance board’s Aug. 18 meeting — as a continuation of the board’s July discussion on the budget process — Rutishauser presented a chart of voting trends dating to 1996 based on data from the Wilton registrars of voters.
Rutishauser noted an “absolute decline” in the number of voters over the years — a trend, he said, that “should concern us greatly.”
According to the chart, voter turnout went from 3,645 in 1996 — 36.8% of 9,906 eligible voters — to 1,294 in 2015 — approximately 11.5% of 11,278 eligible voters.
While 1996 had the highest voter turnout, 2013 had the lowest — 806 of 11,647 (6.9%) eligible voters cast ballots that year.
“We have a situation right now where a lot of people don’t vote, they’re latent in ‘yes’ [votes] because they assume it’s going to pass so why bother, they’re latent in ‘no’ [votes] out there, saying the threshold to get a reject is so high so it doesn’t matter,” said Rutishauser.
“A lot of people don’t vote, and the small number of people who do vote have showed — in the last couple years, in increasing numbers — that they don’t like what is being proposed by us on the board,” said Rutishauser.
Last year, more people voted against the budget than in favor of it, said Rutishauser, “and yet, the three capital projects passed by a rather comfortable margin.”
“It was a disapproval of the operating budget — the big budget; not the capital projects that we recommended — that passed without a threshold on a straight yes-no vote,” he said.
Finance board member Richard Creeth said low voter turnout is not only a problem in Wilton, but one that all Connecticut municipalities are struggling with.
“None of us know what’s driving this. The one thing we know is that voter turnout is declining and it’s continuing to decline,” said Creeth, who also made a chart. He found that “the ‘no’ vote [in Wilton] isn’t really increasing that much — it’s the ‘yes’ vote that’s decreasing.”
“This isn’t just a Wilton problem — this is beyond our borders. I’d like to understand what it is and I’d like to do something about it, but I think the problem we face here and the reason the 15% threshold is in the charter is because you don’t want 10% of the voters making decisions that could be extremely consequential.”