PALMYRA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Some people who voted by absentee ballot in the November election in the towns that makeup the RSU 19 school district say they missed a key vote on the school budget, because it wasn't on the absentee ballot they received.
The reason for that was that the school budget validation was a separate absentee ballot that the towns didn't receive until October 19th. By state law towns must have absentee ballots for statewide races ready for voters 30 days before an election. The 30 day period doesn't apply to school budget referendums. RSU 19's board didn't approve the budget and hand the ballots to the town clerks until October 19th and some people had already requested and received state absentee ballots prior to that.
Donna Dyer is a disabled veteran who lives in Palmyra. She and her husband say they picked up the absentee ballot for the statewide race at the town office about three weeks before the election but they didn't get any ballots for the school vote. They say when they handed the state ballot in, they were not notified there was a school budget ballot either.
The school budget vote passed by a razor thin margin. of more than 7500 votes cast it passed by just 23 votes. The final tally was 3695 for and 3672 against.
The school budget has been a divisive issue in the towns that make up the school district and it has failed to pass two other times. Those Towns are Newport, Corinna, Palmyra, Hartland, Etna, Dixmont, St. Albans, and Plymouth.
Dyer says she and her husband would have voted against the budget if they had the chance When asked how she felt about this she said, "Disenfranchised like my vote doesn't count, I don't matter it's just wrong."
RSU 19 superintendent Mike Hammer says that legally they did everything they were supposed to. He felt it would have been good for voter turnout and would save money to have the school budget validation referendum on the same date as the November election. By state law, school budget validation referendums must be held within 30 calendar days of the vote to accept the budget by the RSU board. That means that if the RSU 19 board approved the budget on October 19th, it would have had to have the budget validation referendum no later than November 18th, just ten days after the November 8th election.
"Every time we run one of these it's man hours it's manpower it's dates it's times, this one is already coming it's a major election people should be knowing we're going to tag in on that," Hammer said.
He said the citizens need to accept responsibility to stay informed and that the town clerks could have notified those who voted by absentee already.
"I guess it falls to some extent on the voter to say, Hey did I vote on the school budget I really wanted to when does it go out? It goes to the people in the towns, the ballot clerks who certainly don't want me to touch a ballot," Hammer said. "They need to have a list and make sure the people get the school ballots."
Hammer said RSU 19 did announce the school budget validation referendum at the budget meeting on October 19th, and had it posted on the RSU 19 website and Facebook page, but said they did not post an ad in any local paper.
Dyer says she does not use Facebook or the internet and did not attend the October 19th meeting. She says she does look for the ads in the local newspaper however and did not see the budget validation referendum posted there.
The town clerk in Corinna referred any questions to the town manager who would not be back in the office until Monday. The town clerk's office in Newport took a phone call from us inquiring about whether the town took steps to notify voters who may have received absentee ballots from the state before the school budget validation ballots were received, but as of the posting of this story, we did not receive a phone call back with that information. The town clerk in Palmyra however did tell us it should be RSU 19's responsibility to notify people about the vote and the absentee ballot and this was not the fault of the town clerks.
There was a sizable difference in the number of state absentee ballots requested and school budget absentee ballots in several of the towns in the RSU, according to numbers provided by the towns. In Newport, there were 371 state absentee ballots and 167 for the school budget validation referendum. In Corinna, there were 149 state absentee ballots and just 14 school budget absentee ballots requested. In Plymouth, 187 state ballots and 100 school budget ballots were requested. In Plymouth, 105 state ballots went out and just 41 school budget ballots. We were unable to compile numbers for the other towns in the RSU because the offices closed before NEWS CENTER could request those numbers.