Voter turnout way up in Riverhead; budget tally to be continued Wednesday

Final results for the Riverhead Central School District’s 2020-21 budget vote will have to wait at least one more day.

Officials could not finish the process of counting the more than 6,000 absentee ballots in the allotted time, so the process will pause and resume Wednesday morning. In addition to voting on a $147 million spending plan — a 1.87% increase over the current budget — Riverhead voters were tasked with filling three Board of Education seats out of 10 candidates.

The district saw a huge spike in ballots as the voting was done entirely by absentee votes due to restrictions set by the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The budget votes are ordinarily in May.

Riverhead Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez confirmed more than 6,000 ballots had been received, more than 2 1/2 times last year’s total. An exact total was not yet available.

Riverhead officials sat at tables spaced several feet apart in the high school gymnasium counting ballots for four hours Tuesday night until reaching the set deadline of 9 p.m.

The protocol is for the gym to be locked overnight so counting can resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Results were projected on a screen in the gym and updated periodically. At 9 p.m., the screen showed slightly more no votes (797) had been tallied than yes votes (717), although additional numbers were still being inputted into the computer from Tuesday’s count. Last year there were 2,274 total votes, which was the lowest turnout since at least 1996. That budget received 64.5% approval.

Dr. Henriquez declined to comment Tuesday night on the results so far.

Incumbent Therese Zuhoski (600) had the highest total of votes shown so far. Virginia Healy (492) was second followed by incumbent Chris Dorr (480).

Some of the BOE candidates watched the proceedings in the gymnasium. A livestream on YouTube showed the gymnasium during the entire process, although there was no audio available from those cameras.

Total votes in prior Riverhead elections

2019: 2,274
2018: 2,443
2017: 2,380
2016: 2,583
2015: 2,920

The deadline to submit a ballot was 5 p.m. Tuesday. The deadline had been extended an additional week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo from the original June 9 date.

A second proposition on the ballot asked voters to authorize spending $469,470 from the district’s Cafeteria Capital Reserve Fund to replace serving lines at the high school, Middle School and Pulaski Street Elementary School cafeterias, as well as install a walk-in freezer and improve the serving area at Pulaski. The proposition had more yes votes (995) than no (517) as of the end of Tuesday night.

The district had averaged just over 2,500 total votes in the five prior elections.

Riverhead voters overwhelmingly rejected a bond proposal in February before the pandemic struck. The $97 million bond was intended to fund repairs and renovations to address critical space needs. There were 2,626 no votes compared to just 1,151 yes votes.

SWR budget approved

The Shoreham-Wading River School District’s $77.2 million budget was approved by a wide margin. There were 2,146 yes votes compared to 801 no votes. Three incumbents — Katie Andersen, Michael Lewis and Henry Perez — ran unopposed for the Board of Education. The turnout was double last year’s total of 1,458 votes.