Record low turnout for annual town election

Apr 6, 2021

The Town Clerk will remain an elected position, as town citizens voted amid record low turnout in the annual town election on April 6.

In this year’s election 1,617 of Dartmouth’s 22,710 registered voters turned out to vote, representing 7.12% of all registered voters. 

Last year — amid a global pandemic that saw the April town election delayed until June — 8.1% of voters cast their ballots.

Since 2015, only the two most recent town elections have seen voter turnout below 10%.

Town Clerk Sarrah Arruda won her bid to retain her position at Town Hall with 1,219 votes. Her challenger, former hospitality worker Kelsi Power-Spirlet, had 311 votes.

“I feel relieved,” Arruda laughed. “We’re going to have a break from elections for a full year.” 

With the win, the clerk said that she plans to digitize the town’s dog licensing program so residents can pay from home, along with trying to get more town records online.

Arruda also hopes to find ways to increase turnout for the town’s future elections.

“I was really optimistic that more people would come out, but unfortunately we didn't,” she said. “These are really important elections — the local election impacts residents directly.” 

Precinct 3 and 4 warden Erika Hamer noted that things were “slow” at the Dartmouth Bible Church — with 121 ballots cast at Precinct 4 and zero from UMass Dartmouth’s Precinct 3.

“Absolutely nobody from the college came,” she said.

Longtime resident and Town Meeting member Kevin Estes will take a seat on the Planning Board with 856 votes. His opponent, former town employee Jane (Kirby) Pansire, had 512. 

“It feels good — I’m excited,” Estes said, noting that he is looking forward to helping finish the master planning process and having a hand in the many big projects currently in progress.

“Obviously I have a little catching up to do, but I’m looking forward to buckling down and getting going,” he added.

As for taking the seat left by former Planning Board Chair Lorri-Ann Miller, who had held it for the past thirty years, Estes said that she steered the board well.

“I hope I can do her spot justice,” he said.

In the final contested race, Hawthorn Medical Associates’ Dr. Christian Pope won an open seat on the Board of Health with 803 votes. His challenger, physician assistant Darci Moran, had 590 votes.

All other races were uncontested.

Select Board member David Tatelbaum and chair Frank Gracie III were both reelected, as were School Committee Vice Chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins, Planning Board member Christopher O’Neil, and Parks Board member James Bosworth.

Library Trustees Ilene Levine and Stanley Bielusiak also kept their seats, as did Housing Authority member David Brodeur.

Precinct 4 voter Derek Fernandes noted that this was his second town election he voted in. He said that while he wasn’t too familiar with all the candidates' policies, he voted for Arruda, Pansire, and Pope since they’ve “had more experience” working for the town.

“They’re certainly more experienced than I would ever be for those positions,” he laughed.

Residents also voted 893 to 551 to keep the Town Clerk an elected position instead of appointed. It is currently the only elected position on the town’s payroll.

Precinct 1 voter Lynn Garcia voted in favor of changing the clerk to an appointed seat. She said that town officials should be able to appoint someone if they feel that person is qualified, along with making a change to how the town operates.

“It might be best to look at [the position] in a new light,” Garcia said.

Hans Bendiksen, also from Precinct 1, said he wanted to keep the position elected, adding that he hasn’t had any problems with the setup in the past.

“There’s nothing wrong with the way that it is,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 

Arruda said she was pleased that her position will remain elected, noting that there are “plenty of rules and oversight from the state.” 

“I don’t think this position needs the oversight from the Select Board or Town Administrator,” she said, adding that the relationship has already been steady under the current structure. “The voter was very clear on how they felt.”