2 BOCES to seek new school-vote software provider

Bellport residents vote during the school board elections Bellport residents vote during the school board elections at Bellport Middle School in Bellport. (May 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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Two BOCES districts said they will seek new bids for election-management services for public schools after revelations that software used by scores of Long Island districts had voter-tracking technology that could be used in violation of state election law.

Nassau BOCES and Eastern Suffolk BOCES, in a joint statement, said the decision followed its review of Bold Systems LLC and "is being done to open the service to new vendors with election management software."

New bid specifications will require that "no election management service vendor will offer any feature that allows anyone to influence the school-budget voting process," the statement said.

Twenty-three districts in Nassau County and 35 in Suffolk have the software sold by the Bellport data-systems company, according to lists provided last week by Nassau BOCES.

Of those, 19 districts in Nassau and 13 in Suffolk use the software's 2.0 version, which Bold advertises for its ability to provide "real-time" lists of parents and district employees who have not voted on school budgets and to generate call lists on election day. Another 14 districts have the software's 1.05 version with the added option -- called "PSK" -- that heightens detailed election reporting, according to documents.

Attempts by public bodies to selectively influence voter turnout is illegal. BOCES officials and district officials have repeatedly said there is no proof any districts used the technology in a potentially illegal way.

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"Every school district knows how to conduct school budget elections within the spirit and the letter of the law, and there is no evidence to the contrary," a Board of Cooperative Educational Services spokesman said Saturday.

The software was purchased by districts through BOCES. Under law, local districts are encouraged to combine in purchasing services on the assumption that it saves money.

Critics have said the software could be used to influence election outcomes, with boosters calling residents they believe will vote in the district's favor.

Under the rebid, the BOCES districts "will contractually require vendors to give assurances that they understand the laws and procedures of the state Department of Education and will explicitly follow those laws and procedures," said the BOCES statement, released Friday.

The Education Department was notified before the statement was issued, the BOCES spokesman said.

Brian Jusas, a Bold managing member, said Saturday he had not heard about the rebid. When he was read the BOCES statement, he said it was a "fair statement on their part." He would not comment further.

Education Department officials said Monday they were investigating reports that Island districts could use Bold software to help maximize their "yes" vote during budget elections.

Gary Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said last week that he had ordered Bold Systems to disable the computerized system in question the week before, as soon as the Bayport-Blue Point district alerted him to the problem. He said he also told Bold to stop marketing its ability to give districts an electoral advantage.

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Noel Feustel of Bayport, who brought the issue to light after getting information on Suffolk districts' use of Bold through a Freedom of Information Law request, said Saturday he wasn't satisfied with the decision to rebid the services.

"They are throwing it on the vendor," Feustel said. "People with badges and subpoenas should be looking into this . . . a lot of people would be satisfied if it was investigated in an appropriate manner."

Several Long Island school officials, in interviews last week, said the system has not been used in any potentially illegal way.

"I think the system is operating perfectly well," North Shore Superintendent Ed Melnick said. The district has used Bold Systems since the 2008-09 school year. "To my knowledge, the system has never been used in this district to sway an election. We have a long history of budgets passing here," he said.

Melnick said the program simplified the voting process and saved money by allowing the district to halve the number of poll workers it hires each year. Under the old system, the district hired 30 to 40 people.

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