2010-05-06 / News

Financial town meeting may include paper ballots

ACO controversy could spark first paper ballot in years
By Phil Zahodiakin

Because of the controversy sparked by the pending proposal to eliminate the animal control officer position, Jamestown residents will almost certainly cast their votes on the proposed fiscal year 2010-11 budget by paper instead of by voice, hand or standing ballot.

The budget will be presented for a vote at the June 7 financial town meeting, which will be held at the Lawn Avenue School. Islanders who aren’t registered to vote, but would like to participate in the financial voting, have until this Saturday, May 8, to register at Town Hall.

Canvassing clerk Karen Montoya told the Press that Jamestown residents who want to confirm that they’re registered to vote should visit the Town web site, scroll to “Voting” in the “Departments” window, click on “Voting” and then open the “Registration Information” link.

She also said that the town is anticipating – and preparing for – a paper ballot because of the emotional views for and against the ACO position, which would cease to exist on July 1 if the budget is adopted. The paper ballot option has always been available at financial town meetings, but the budget is typically offered for a voice vote first.

If the town moderator feels that a voice vote hasn’t indicated a clear majority, he or she asks for a show of hands, or asks the voters to stand for a count. But in this case, some islanders might not want their votes on the budget – and thus the ACO position – to be public.

“I’m out in the community a lot, and everybody’s talking about this issue,” Montoya said. “The problem is that there are a lot of people saying that, because it’s such an emotional issue, I’ve heard both sides say, ‘I don’t want to go there and make my position known by raising my hand.’

“I always have the scanner [to read paper ballots] available,” Montoya continued, “but I want to be totally prepared for what I’m thinking will be the inevitable: A paper ballot. If it doesn’t happen, there’s nothing lost.”

Paper ballots are triggered when a hand or voice vote results in a tie, but Montoya said that Jamestown hasn’t resorted to a paper ballot for a budget vote since 1992.

“There was a controversial issue involving the schools,” she said. “I looked at old newspaper clippings and learned that we had something like 700 people show up at that meeting.

“Back then,” she continued, “the ballots were just little pieces of paper where you wrote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and dropped them in the box. Because they were counted by hand, the process took something like 90 minutes, but the optical scanner will provide a final result the moment the voting is finished. I’m just trying to streamline the process so it will run as quickly and smoothly as possible.”

Under the process, islanders who aren’t registered will be directed to an area off to the side. In a change from previous procedure, registered voters will be provided with stickers bearing their names, and they will attach the stickers to their clothing.

The duly identified voters will then take their places in the voter area. Once seated, Town Moderator Jim Donnelly will explain that the voters have an option for a paper ballot; that a motion for a paper ballot has to be offered by a voter; and that the motion, if seconded, has to be supported by 20% of the voters present.

Montoya says that the vote on the motion, should it be offered, will be a standing count.

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