LI school districts bought software that could impact budget voter turnout
More than a dozen Long Island school districts have spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to purchase computer software capable of influencing voter turnout in critical budget elections, according to district budget records.
Attempts by public bodies to selectively influence voter turnout is illegal under state election laws.
On May 21, Long Island voters will vote on the annual operating budgets for their local school districts, which require 50 percent approval to pass and 60 percent if the proposed budget exceeds the state's 2 percent tax cap.
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Software sold by Bold Systems LLC of Bellport allows districts to track voter turnout in real time, and gives districts the ability to generate call lists of key voting blocs, such as "PTA members, families with kids in athletics . . . to help get out the votes," according to a description of the software on the company's website, which has been deactivated.
"If your budget votes are too close to call, EMS can provide the edge you need," reads the description, still accessible via archive website services. But spending public money to target particular voting groups before an election is against state law.
Bay Shore, Bellport-Blue Point, Connetquot, Harborfields, Hauppauge, Huntington, Mount Sinai, Riverhead, Rocky Point, Sayville, Shelter Island, South Country and West Islip all paid for the software last year, according to documents obtained by a Bayport parent activist through a Freedom of Information Law request.
"My concern is that they are manipulating the electoral process," said Noel Feustel of Bayport, who brought the issue to light with his records request.
The software was purchased by each district through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which negotiates prices for goods and services for the state's hundreds of school districts.
In a joint statement issued Sunday, Gary Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES and Thomas Rogers, district superintendent of Nassau BOCES, who is also serving as interim superintendent of Western Suffolk BOCES, said they asked Bold Systems to deactivate any component of the program that potentially violates state law.
Both said that to their knowledge, all the districts that purchased the software "have conducted their budget elections in complete compliance with the procedures and policies of New York State."
"When it was brought to our attention that Bold Systems LLC was marketing its services in such a way as to encourage school districts to target specific categories of voters and encourage a 'yes' vote on school budgets, [we] immediately terminated any aspect of the Bold Systems LLC that can be utilized in a manner that violates the spirit and letter of the law," they wrote. The license to use the tracking software cost each district $6,300 a year, according to budget documents.
Robert Vomastek, who developed the software, declined to comment when reached by phone Sunday.Bold Systems' website says 110 New York school districts use its software, which includes a simplified version that functions without the tracking capability.