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Wyandanch school vote should board vote nullified by state

Wyandanch High School (Dec. 7, 2009)

Wyandanch High School (Dec. 7, 2009) Credit: Jori Klein

A Wyandanch school board member elected in May has been removed from her seat after her opponent in the election won a state appeal claiming a discarded vote would have resulted in a tie.

The school board Wednesday night is expected to vote on when to have a new election for the position.

Moneik Hatcher won the seat by one vote over incumbent Charlie Reed, 234 to 233. However, one ballot submitted contained all write-in votes for the candidates, including for Reed, instead of filled-in ovals next to the candidates’ names. The write-ins were done not in the designated write-in boxes, but under the candidates’ names. The ballot was not counted by officials overseeing the election.

In her decision, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia cites an affidavit from school district clerk Stephanie Howard in which she states that the electronically-scanned ballots were not reviewed for write-in votes.

The following day, Howard stated in the affidavit, the ballots were inspected. However, she stated that she was advised by the board’s attorney that the ballot in question should not be counted “because among other things, only the Commissioner of Education could order a recount of ballots.”

Howard stated that the election was the first time she had used electronic voting machines and “was not familiar with the procedure for recognition of write-in ballots” by the machines.

Elia stated that “it is not impossible to determine the choice of the voter in question” and noted that the Wyandanch school board “does not object to a recount or a new vote.” She declared the May election results for the seat annulled.

Elia stated that the district must fill the vacancy left by Hatcher “as soon as practicable” but no later than the budget vote in May.

Other parts of Reed’s appeal — that Hatcher failed to meet the state’s one-year residency requirement for the position and that she is not qualified to serve as a member of the board — were dismissed by Elia, noting that Reed failed to prove either claim.

Because Hatcher was a de facto member of the board until the appeal decision, Elia stated that none of the board’s actions involving Hatcher would be invalidated.

In her affidavit in response to the appeal, Hatcher stated that the write-in ballot should not be counted. However, when reached for comment on the decision, Hatcher said she’s “excited” to have a new election.

“We just want a fair election, no matter who’s the winner,” she said.

Hatcher said she feels she’s been successful as a member of the board and remains “devoted to our children’s education.”

Reed could not be reached for comment.

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