BARRE — The only ballots that will be cast in Barre and Barre Town today will have to be dropped off in person because it’s way too late to mail them.
In a break from their typical Tuesday tradition, polls will be open for a single-issue special election from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in both communities on Wednesday as voters will be given another chance — their third — to approve a budget for their shared pre-K-12 school district.
Early returns are underwhelming — particularly in Barre where 635 absentee ballots had been returned heading into the weekend and Monday’s mail didn’t move the needle as much as expected.
City Clerk Carol Dawes said only 63 additional ballots arrived in the mail on Monday — pushing the total to 698 of the 1,303 absentee ballots that were automatically mailed to those who voted early in either one, or both, of the previous two budget votes.
The return rate in Barre Town was somewhat higher, but less than 48 hours before the polls open, nearly 600 absentee ballots had not yet been returned.
After processing Monday’s mail, Town Clerk Tina Lunt said her office has received 1,065 of the 1,626 absentee ballots it mailed out to participants in one, or both, of the two earlier elections. The balance are still out there and the window for returning them is almost closed.
If voted ballots haven’t been mailed already, they shouldn’t be. There isn’t time for them to be processed by the U.S. postal service and delivered before the polls close at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
There are options for voters who want to steer clear of the polls on Wednesday.
In Barre, voters can deposit absentee ballots in drop boxes at City Hall until 4 p.m. today and a similar drop box at the municipal office building in Barre Town will remain open until 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Those who wait that long might as well drive a few hundred yards up the road and cast their ballots in person at Barre Town Middle and Elementary School.
Based on the return rate, Dawes is predicting more Barre voters will drive through the BOR ice arena to cast their ballots on Wednesday than did during a special election that was held last month.
The May 11 re-vote was so close — the revised budget failed by just 12 votes — turnout will be important and it looks like it could be somewhat lighter the third time around.
That could be good news for an anxious School Board if “no” voters are sitting this one out, but bad news if they remain motivated despite reductions to a budget that finances operation of centralized elementary schools in Barre and Barre Town, as well as Spaulding High School.
Heading into Wednesday’s special election, Barre voters have twice narrowly passed the School Board’s budget request, only to be out-voted by their counterparts in the town.
That was true on Town Meeting Day in March when a $50.5 million version of the budget failed by 111 votes — 1,582-1,471. Barre voters narrowly approved that budget, 739-729, but it was rejected, 852-732, in Barre Town.
Last month a smaller turnout yielded a larger cushion in Barre where a $50.4 million version of the budget passed 566-504, and a larger turnout produced a closer vote in Barre Town where it failed, 829-903. However, the end result, while much closer was the same. When the vote totals were combined the budget failed, 1,407-1,395.
Though most of the votes have already been cast, the latest edition of the budget — a $49.95 million spending package — will be similarly tested on Wednesday. The ballots will be hand-counted in both communities immediately after the polls close at 7 p.m.
Only three Vermont school budgets were rejected by voters on Town Meeting Day and the other two districts have since approved modified spending plans.
Voters in Georgia approved a reduced version of their failed school budget on the second try in April while Wolcott voters approved their own twice-defeated school budget last month.