Nassau judge orders Oceanside Sanitation District to count paper ballots in disputed election

Tom Lanning, left, defeated Oceanside restaurant owner Mike

Tom Lanning, left, defeated Oceanside restaurant owner Mike Franzini by 42 votes when paper ballots were combined with about 1,600 votes from two voting machines rented by the sanitation district. (Credit: Facebook)

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A Nassau County Supreme Court justice ordered the Oceanside Sanitation District to count 184 paper ballots to settle the contested June election.

Justice Arthur Diamond said during a hearing Monday that the paper ballots should be counted, nearly two months after the June 19 election showed voting machine irregularities.

A Uniondale-based attorney for the district, Jack Libert, said the district is not opposed to the recount but added that several issues remain.

"The district board is aware there were some errors in the election," Libert said in court. "They're a bit chagrined by it, but they want to resolve it in the proper way."

Three candidates were vying for the seat of retiring Commissioner Fred Morse, who remains on the board until a new commissioner is sworn in. The position pays $7,500 annually for a five-year term.

The initial tally of 1,600 votes cast on two voting machines showed Oceanside Chamber of Commerce president Tom Lanning leading restaurant owner Mike Franzini by 98 votes. A third candidate, Stephen Edmondson, received 12 votes.

No winner was declared in the election overseen by the Sanitation District after one voting machine showed 138 more voters entered the voting booth than actual ballots cast.

In addition, the 184 paper ballots were not counted after the election. Those ballots were wrapped in cellophane and locked in a closet at the district offices in Oceanside, officials said.

The paper ballots will be counted in court Wednesday morning with candidates and attorneys for the district present.

"Virtually the only authority I have in this case is to count the ballots," Diamond said.

The candidates said they were happy with the judge's order.

If the count leaves either candidate leading by more than the 138 voters listed on the voting machine, including the paper ballots and voting machine ballots combined, the election could be certified. If the leading margin is less, the candidates could request a new election, officials said.

Paper ballots were reserved for voters whose names did not appear on the voter rolls on the day of the election. About 23 votes on the paper ballots and voter machines were not accompanied by signatures, officials said.

An attorney for the district sealed the paper ballots before they were counted after voter anonymity was compromised, officials said. When paper ballots were cast, voter names and residency verifications were sealed inside envelopes with each ballot.

During the recount Wednesday, the paper ballots will be separated from each voter affidavit before they are recorded.

Libert said there will be no way to know if each paper ballot is from a qualified voter, but the judge said there was no other option unless the election was invalidated.

"If the [sanitation] commission said the only way to resolve this fairly is to do it over, that would make sense to me, but I understand they don't want to do that," Diamond said.

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