Neither boosters for or against a proposed charter change in Saratoga Springs are celebrating a win yet.
On the ballot in Saratoga Springs was a charter change measure that would change the city’s system of government in place since 1915. Under the current Commissioner-style form of government, five city department heads – including the mayor – serve as the elected city council.
The proposal before voters on Tuesday was the third charter measure in four years, and was similar to a plan that narrowly failed in 2017 – one that would move the city to a more common Councilor-Manager form of government with councilors representing wards.
Supporters say the change will increase representation and improve operations in City Hall. Opponents’ say the change would be too risky and too expensive in a very unusual year that has greatly impacted city finances.
By early Wednesday morning, the numbers were trending in the direction of defeat. A nearly 10-point margin separated the yes and no votes.
But the group Saratoga Works, which formed against the proposed charter, wasn’t celebrating quite yet, with absentee ballots still left to be counted, according to the group’s Jane Weihe.
“It’s not totally predictable but we’re hopeful,” said Weihe.
With totals more than 1,100 votes apart not counting absentee ballots, supporters of the charter change would have to make up a lot of ground. Julie Cuneo, a spokeswoman for the group Common Sense Saratoga, wasn’t quite ready to rule things out.
“I really couldn’t say but we’re tying to remain hopeful because in the early voting we were doing really well,” said Cuneo.
But also the charter debate this year became politicized. The city’s Democratic committee endorsed the charter measure, while One Saratoga – a group formed of erstwhile Democratic city committee members — and the city Republican committee opposed the ballot question.
“I think it was a shame that it was so partisan and that we couldn’t get enough Republicans on board because this form of government would help us all as a community and as a city,” said Cuneo.
Weihe also thinks the political groups’ endorsements may have impacted the contest.
“It’s possible. There are so many factors that in the end affect what a voter does. What their parties do is one factor but I think there were a lot of other things at work this year that influenced how other people voted,” said Weihe.
For one thing, this was a presidential election year – most of the charter change measures have come forth in years without presidential candidates at the top of the ticket. Not to mention a global pandemic, which could have impacted get-out-the-vote efforts.
Cuneo blames a changing media atmosphere in the Spa City, too. She says newspapers have scaled back their coverage of local politics in Saratoga Springs in recent years.
But that doesn’t mean that advocates will stop pushing for a change.
“If this election doesn’t turn out that we were able to do this, it will come up again in the future at some point, because it’s just never going to be a good way to govern,” said Cuneo.