SARATOGA SPRINGS — The morning after a too-close-to-call city charter referendum, two members of the Charter Review Commission — Mayor Joanne Yepsen and City Attorney Anthony Izzo — marched into the Saratoga County Board of Elections to learn what's next.
On Tuesday night, the charter change question came down to around 50 votes, with 4,202 votes cast in favor of and 4,154 votes against moving from the current mayor-and-commissioners governmental system to a government overseen by an appointed city manager.
"It was a roller coaster of emotions for all of us, as the numbers went back and forth," said Bob Turner, chairman of the commission. "Every vote matters."
Absentee ballots will determine the outcome of the charter referendum. Out of the 709 ballots issued by the Saratoga County Board of Elections, 482 had been received as of Wednesday.
William Fruci, Saratoga County's commissioner of elections, said the process now is similar to any other election: The county will re-canvass the voting machines Thursday and begin counting absentee ballots Tuesday.
Absentee ballots must be postmarked no later than Nov. 6.
Fruci added that military ballots are accepted until Nov. 20, as long as they are also postmarked no later than Nov. 6.
"We may have all the ballots in that were sent from military members [by Nov. 14]," Fruci said. "Hopefully, it'll be by the end of the month, unless litigation is brought about, which would make it take longer."
Commission member Gordon Boyd, who is also a member of It's Time Saratoga, a non-partisan citizens advocacy group that supports charter change, said he and Turner would be talking to their colleagues about how they want to represent themselves going forward.
"We'll talk to those on the commission and It's Time Saratoga about how to proceed from here," Boyd said. "We'll take consideration into seeking legal representation."
Boyd added that, while he and Turner feel confident the ballots will be kept secure until Nov. 14, they have concerns about what went on at polling locations.
"Efficiency at some of the polling places was not optimal, as some voters were not told to turn over the ballot," he said, referencing the fact that the charter question was on the back of the ballot.
Turner said there were 368 fewer votes cast on the charter referendum than were cast in the mayoral race. But Fruci said inspectors at the voting booths were told to tell voters to turn ballots over, and the ballots had arrows with instructions.
"Not everybody votes for everything on the ballot," he said. "In some cases, we have people turn in blank ballots, and while that's not common, that's their decision."
Fruci added that close elections are common in the county.
"We've had ties before, so this is nothing unusual," he said.
Yepsen said the election results show how engaged the Saratoga Springs community is with the issues.
"I'm happy with the turnout," she said. "It was one of the best years in terms of the city participating in a local election, and I'm thrilled to be mayor of a city that is activated and engaged."
Turner said the charter referendum has resulted in Saratoga Springs residents engaging in conversations and debates about city government.
"Hopefully, we encouraged civic life in Saratoga Springs," he said. "That's a great outcome, no matter what."
Where charter referendum stands
- Votes in favor: 4,202
- Votes against: 4,154
- Absentee ballots received as of Wednesday: 482
- Absentee ballots mailed to voters: 709
- What's next: Absentee ballots, which must be postmarked by Nov. 6, will be opened on Nov. 14. However, military ballots arriving by Nov. 20 will also be counted, provided they are postmarked by Nov. 6.