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Hempstead district asks state to overturn May school board election

In this May 20, 2015, file photo, Hempstead

In this May 20, 2015, file photo, Hempstead school district attorney Monte Malik Chandler and Hempstead school board members Shelly Brazley, Lamont Johnson, JoAnn Simmons, Ricky A. Cooke Sr. and Maribel Toure announce they want a new election at an emergency school board meeting held at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in Hempstead. In a June 10 document, the school district and school board asked the state education commissioner to overturn the May 19 election results. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead school district and board of education have petitioned the state education commissioner asking that the May 19 election results be overturned, citing allegations of electioneering, voter intimidation, fraud and misrepresentation.

The document, dated June 10, said the candidate vote totals should be annulled and a new election held for two board seats, with oversight from the state attorney general's office.

A state Education Department spokesman said Friday that the agency had received the petition and accompanying documents, but would not comment on its contents.

"Because this matter is before the commissioner as an appeal, we cannot comment in any way on the recent board election in Hempstead," Jonathan Burman said.

Incumbent Maribel Touré and Gwendolyn Jackson ran as a team in the hotly contested at-large election that included seven candidates. They were the top two vote-getters. Touré pulled in 678 votes, while Jackson received 500. Incumbent Shelley Brazley received the next-highest amount, with 457.

The petition alleges discrepancies and inconsistencies in Touré's and Jackson's campaign expenditure filings.

Mimi Pierre Johnson, the women's campaign manager, said the claims are untrue. Touré and Jackson's response will be further explained in a filing to the state, she said. "They are grasping at straws," Johnson said of the petitioners.

Lawyers for the school district, in affidavits accompanying the petition, also say Keith Corbett, an attorney representing the Touré camp, told them on election night that he had a state Supreme Court justice on the phone who was to issue an order to the district for a halt on the counting of ballots that evening.

The district said Corbett spoke loudly of election irregularities within earshot of voters, undermining the election.

Corbett has said all of the district's allegations are false.

The petition details a handful of instances of alleged electioneering. In one case, Touré supporter Melissa Figueroa was alleged to have misrepresented herself to poll workers as a family member and then as a translator to two voters, accompanying them into the voting booths.

Figueroa, in an interview, said she did nothing wrong.

"I wasn't electioneering, but trying to translate," she said. "I never claimed I was a relative."

In another case, Johnson was accused of standing too close to the polls and unfairly influencing voters.

She denied the charge.

"When I read it, I just had to laugh," she said in an interview. "Anybody who knows me will know this is not me at all. They are wasting their time. It is just unbelievable that they would even put these kinds of things on paper."

The vote took place May 19, but ballots were not counted until a day later.

When the totals were announced and certified by the board at an open meeting May 20, attendees erupted, demanding that trustees reconsider.

The board went into executive session. When the trustees emerged, they voted to no longer consider valid the candidates' vote totals.

Weeks later, after realizing it did not have authority to disregard the results -- only the state education commissioner can toss them -- the board declared the women victors.

Board president Lamont Johnson has said Touré and Jackson will be sworn in and seated at a reorganizational meeting scheduled for July. The district's website shows that meeting is set for July 7.

This is the second time in a row the education commissioner has been asked to overturn a Hempstead spring school board election. Last summer, Touré petitioned the commissioner when she was found to have lost to longtime incumbent Betty Cross in a May race that included dozens of disputed absentee ballots.

King ordered a new election, which Touré won handily in October.

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