Voter turnout for the referendum over Rotterdam’s ambulance service Tuesday was pretty impressive, and the results — 2,473 against to 1,386 in favor — made it pretty clear how town residents feel about making a commitment to spend more money for a vital service than they have to. No, thank you — which is also what a much-smaller group of them in the Mohonasen school district said the day before, in response to a building referendum that would have added roughly $40 per year to the tax bill of a $100,000 homeowner.
That referendums on two admittedly unrelated but equally significant issues were held on successive days in separate places (town hall and the high school) was fairly remarkable, and typical of how little regard municipalities and schools have for their taxpayers. Voting is inconvenient any time of year, but in December there are more likely to be weather (snow) and traffic (holiday shopping) issues involved. Holding a referendum is also costly, so why couldn’t the school district and town have made more of an effort to hold their votes on the same day and in the same place?
The school district at least gave voters the option of casting absentee ballots (as long as they were received by Monday), but for the ambulance taxing district proposal, the town insisted that people come to town hall in the flesh if they wanted to weigh in. (Was this a sneaky way for opponents of the plan, which included the town’s political leaders, to discourage seniors, who were probably most likely to approve the plan, from exercising their franchise? Everyone knows retirees are more likely to head south at this time of year, or at least less willing to go out in the cold.)
Not surprisingly, there were lines (of cars in the tiny town hall parking lot and people inside) for much of the day. According to Councilwoman Nicola DiLeva, some people got discouraged by the wait and left before voting. Given the lopsided results, it seems doubtful that allowing absentee ballots or holding the vote in a less foreboding season would have changed the outcome. But that would have been much harder to say had the tally been much closer.
Absentee ballots should be made available for all public elections, referendums and budget votes. Moreover, it’s time for New York to consider the way most other states do it, which is to allow their citizens to cast ballots up to several weeks before an election. Maybe if voting weren’t so inconvenient, more New Yorkers would do it.