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Betty Cross, Maribel Touré file petitions for Hempstead school board seat

Maribel Toure, left, announced she is filing petitions

Maribel Toure, left, announced she is filing petitions to be on the ballot for the Hempstead School Board special election on Monday, Sept. 29, 2014 in Hempstead. Hempstead School Board President Betty Cross, right, is shown on Friday, May 23, 2014. Cross also announced she is filing petitions to be on the ballot for the special election.

Betty Cross and Maribel Touré are seeking a seat on the Hempstead school board in a rare special election scheduled next month, called after the state's education commissioner threw out results for one slot in the contested May vote.

Cross, 68, and Touré, 52, filed petitions with the district clerk by Monday's deadline to enter the Oct. 28 contest.

Each needed 40 signatures from registered voters. Those names will be verified in the coming days by poll inspectors hired by the district and with special election training, said Austin Graff, an attorney for Hempstead schools.

The potential candidates were announced by district clerk Patricia Wright under the watch of two monitors from the Civil Rights Bureau of the state attorney general's office, as per the state Education Department.

The call for the second election came after Touré and her camp alleged misuse of absentee ballots, failure to follow election law and voter coercion in a petition filed with Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. in June.

Touré had a greater number of votes for the at-large seat when ballots were counted on election night May 20. But Cross was declared the victor and sworn in at an emergency board meeting the next day after scores of absentee ballots were counted, despite protests from Touré and others that many were invalid.

Cross, a member of the board for most of the past 30 years who served several terms as president, has denied wrongdoing.

King, acting with speed unusual in such cases, removed Cross from the board and on Aug. 28 ordered the district to set the special election. The term of the board seat expires June 30.

About six people from the state attorney general's office are expected to monitor the election, spokeswoman Melissa Grace said Monday. King ordered the oversight.

Grace said monitors will review the petitions that candidates were required to file to run for the seat and oversee the absentee balloting process.

The office will work with the district "before, during and after the election to ensure that complete and accurate information is provided to voters . . . and that the election process comports with the law," Grace said.

The election will be held at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School. Voting hours will be from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Touré, who has not previously served on the board, said at a news conference earlier Monday that the community needs change and the district's children deserve a better education.

"We cannot afford any more students turning 20 without a high school diploma," she said, standing outside the district's administrative office. Nor can it tolerate children dying on the streets or joining gangs because they have so little opportunity, she said.

Cross could not be reached for comment Monday. Cornell Bozier, her campaign manager, said she has been a leader in the community for more than 35 years.

"She feels strongly about running and coming back," he said. Bozier said he submitted Cross' petition for her yesterday, but did not know how many signatures she had collected.

Touré had more than 200.

In the May election, Touré had 712 votes on election night and Cross had 691. After the disputed absentee ballots were counted, Cross' vote count jumped to 719 to Touré's 713.

Touré, in her petition to King, said some of the absentee ballots were obtained surreptitiously by Cross' camp, and that district clerk Patricia Wright did not keep a list of such voters open to the public for inspection on Election Day, as required.

King, in his August decision, said the failure to keep the list "demonstrates a degree of laxity in the handling of absentee ballots that threatened the integrity of the election."

The commissioner also noted the disparity between the number of absentee votes for Cross, as compared with the number of votes for her on machines. While Cross had 159 fewer machine votes than Touré, Cross had half of the absentee votes cast in the total field of seven candidates.The Nassau Count district attorney is investigating the May election and has issued three subpoenas to the district, sources close to the investigation have said.

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