The disputed Hempstead school board election is now a test for state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. A petition has been filed charging the school district, its clerk and board president Betty J. Cross with election fraud and abuse of absentee ballots.
The petition details allegations of a stunning number of voting irregularities that mirror the corruption and dysfunction that have plagued the poor-performing district for years. If the accounts from more than 20 Hempstead residents are true, they demand decisive action from King.
If he finds ballots were fraudulent, he should invalidate them and declare the winner of the one seat in question. He should not call for a new election. How could anyone guarantee that would be held fairly?
At the heart of the protest is a group of absentee ballots barred from being counted on election night by a unanimous objection by poll inspectors. The day after the election, the ballots were counted at a hastily called and, according to the petition, illegal meeting. Cross picked up 28 votes to one for challenger Maribel C. Touré. That count allowed Cross to retain her seat by six votes.
The petition contains accounts of residents being visited at home by members of Cross' campaign team and being pressured to vote for Cross through absentee ballots. Others were asked to sign forms allowing Cross' workers to vote on their behalf. The petition alleges that absentee ballots were illegally reproduced outside the clerk's office, that some voters were rushed at the polling site and not allowed to complete their ballots, and that students were taken out of class and told to vote only for Cross and for the school district budget.
The charges -- many more than we have space to list -- are outrageous and demand King's thorough evaluation. And if he determines that they are valid, Cross' election must be nullified.