Voters in the city of Wichita rejected fluoridated water on Tuesday, as they did in 1964 and 1978.
Election returns posted early Wednesday morning showed a fluoride initiative sponsored by local dentists and doctors failed with 59 percent voting no.
Jonathan Hall of Wichitans Opposed to Fluoridation said the results were confirming what he sensed during the campaign.
“We felt pretty confident the whole way through,” Hall said.
“First off, historically, more than half the time when it comes to a public vote, fluoride is voted down. Then talking to people as we’ve been campaigning, people have been expressing: ‘We never knew this about fluoride.’ People want to learn, and they’ve been happy to learn about it.”
At a watch party at Office This, a large group of fluoridation opponents reached their peak number at 8:30 p.m., but tired attendees started leaving an hour later when returns still had not come in.
A large tote board ready to monitor the precincts for “yes” and “no” votes remained blank. The only cheer that went up happened when a fresh shipment of pizza arrived.
For many Wichita voters, fluoridation was the main local issue of controversy as they went to the polls, given the dearth of competitive races in Kansas.
Three-fourths of the country drinks water with the cavity-fighting chemical in it.
But Wichita had rejected fluoride several times in the past, both at the ballot box and in the chambers of the City Council, or City Commission as it was previously known.
This year, a broad coalition of local doctors and dentists collected more than 11,000 signatures on an initiative, forcing the council to either adopt fluoridation or put it to a vote.
The council, which had studiously avoided the controversial issue for years, decided unanimously to punt the issue to the voters.
Both sides mounted spirited campaigns.
Anti-fluoride forces organized through several different but interlocking groups, including Fluoride Free Kansas, Wichitans Opposed to Fluoridation and the Kansas Republican Assembly.
They claimed that fluoridation has a long list of potential side effects, including fluorosis-related staining of the teeth, reduced intelligence, cancer and thyroid disease.
They also contended that fluoridation is mass medication and would be forced on people who don’t want it if it were added to the water supply.
Those arguments swayed voters like LaGina Walker, 34, and Lindsey Jones, 27.
“I pushed no, because it can mess up your teeth,” said Walker. “And I don’t trust the water, period.”
Jones said fluoridation was a nice change of pace for an election question – “not Democrat or Republican or Libertarian.”
“I was all for voting against fluoride,” Jones said. “The less things in the water probably the better. People should be more responsible and brush their teeth.”
The pro-fluoride forces mobilized under the banner Wichitans for Healthy Teeth.
Their main argument was that fluoridated water is a safe and effective means of fighting tooth decay and would save Wichitans a lot of money and a lot of pain.
They contended that the adverse health effects claimed by the anti-fluoride group were scare tactics and the research was based on exposure to much higher levels of fluoride than one would get from American drinking water.
They also argued that those effects had not been found despite more than 50 years of fluoridated water use involving about three-fourths of the population of the country.
Voter Charles Spencer, 59, said he voted “yes” for fluoride.
“I’m from New York and I had fluoride in the water, and there’s no different taste or anything,” he said.
Contributing: Suzanne Perez Tobias, Rick Plumlee, Amy Renee Leiker