A ballot measure proposing to disincorporate the town of Big Water went down to defeat Tuesday, but nothing appears settled in this tiny but fractious community.

When the ballots were counted, 101 people said "no" to the question, "Shall the municipality of Big Water be dissolved?" On the other side, 71 said "yes."Town Clerk Delinda Joseph said nearly all of the voters eligible to cast ballots in the election did so. A couple of absentee ballots are still out - not enough to change the election's outcome, she said.

But disincorporation proponents are charging voter fraud, and the polls had barely closed before they began calling people to ask them whether they really cast the absentee ballots that carried their names.

"They stole the election," said B.J. Wagener, archrival of the town's polygamist, Libertarian mayor, Alex Joseph.

"They had absentee ballots, but we had more people voting than live here. We know there were 59 people from the Joseph clan who voted against disincorporation. There are a bunch we don't know about," Wagener said.

"Some people we haven't seen in four years or longer voted absentee," said Betty Olsen.

The call for disincorporation came in the wake of the town's first-ever property tax, instituted to pay an estimated $30,000 in legal fees in suits the town attorney, Elizabeth Joseph, says were instigated by the same people who want to disband the town, incorporated in 1983.

Those who want to return the town to Kane County control gathered 51 signatures on a petition, enough to force the issue to the vote.

State officials representing the lieutenant governor and attorney general were in Big Water Tuesday to monitor the election for intimidation or unorthodox election practices.

But Assistant Attorney General Ralph Finlayson said it wasn't until all the votes were counted that he heard any charges of improprieties.

In fact, Finlayson said, the election seemed to go off without a hitch.

"The election judges and the watchers on both sides and the people from the lieutenant governor's office and the people from the attorney general's office all felt that things went smoothly," Finlayson said in a telephone interview from his hotel room in Arizona.

"Occasionally, someone came in who was a little heated up," he said. "But throughout the day, it was calm. Frankly, I was a little surprised about the assertions about the absentee ballots. The first thing I heard about them was when I stepped out of the building at about 8:30 after everything was counted."

Finlayson said that the first level of inquiry into allegations of voter fraud would be on the local level. "If there is a serious difficulty, it would go to the courts," he said.

And that's just what the disincorporation proponents plan to do, said Wagener. They will try to raise the $15,000 they believe they will need to challenge the election and remove the entire City Council from office.

"We're getting ready to throw Alex out and put him into permanent retirement," Wagener said. "The election doesn't make any difference, because Alex Joseph will not be mayor by the end of 1991."

But Joseph, a former Modesto, Calif., police officer who, with his nine wives and other relatives, has run the town since the mid-1970s, seemed comfortable with his victory.

"It's not much of a surprise," he said. "There was a last-minute disinformation campaign, but we didn't even bother to respond to it."

The charges were the usual ones - nepotism, general high-handedness - but Joseph waved them off.

With its growth in population and increase in property values, Big Water has been "tremendously successful, and we hope to continue to be successful," he said.

As for his opponents, "I go to a lot of trouble to stay away from them," Joseph said. "I consider them very spooky and dangerous people."