The Hempstead school board, in a turnabout, voted Wednesday night to ask the state education commissioner to set a new election for two board seats after initially accepting candidates Maribel Toure and Gwendolyn Jackson as winners in the seven-way race.
Trustees took a series of votes after meeting in executive session. While they accepted the results of the budget vote, they decertified the school board outcome that had given Toure and Jackson a win. They tasked attorneys with taking legal action against any parties believed to be involved in fraud and said they will ask for a do-over from the state education commissioner, who is empowered to order special elections.
The votes on those measures were unanimous, except for Toure. She abstained on decertifying the results, voted "no" to suing parties accused by the district of fraud, and abstained on the petition for a new election to the education commissioner.
The board did accept the vote approving the district's $189,934,158 budget, 501 to 366.
The turnabout came after the district resumed counting ballots Wednesday, following a day in court because Toure and Jackson had complained about issues with absentee ballots. Toure, an incumbent seeking her first full term in office, and Jackson, her running partner, were the top vote-getters, with 678 and 500 votes, respectively, said school district clerk Patricia Wright at the start of the Hempstead school board meeting Wednesday night.
The other board candidates were incumbent Shelley Brazley, with 457 votes; David B. Gates, with 437 votes; Jeffrey Spencer, with 384 votes; Hans Thevenot, with 148 votes, and Caprice Rines, with 105 votes.
Jackson said she's confident that her victory will stand. "I'm elected," Jackson said. "I worked hard for this. We were out in this community listening and all people said was 'Enough is enough. We want change.' "
The episode echoes last year's vote, when absentee ballots were also challenged, leading to a state-ordered special election in October that Toure won over longtime incumbent Betty Cross.
This time, though, it's the board that's set to challenge the district vote.
Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the New York State Department of Education, did not comment, saying "this will likely be an issue that will come before the commissioner."
Matters became complicated on Tuesday night for Hempstead, when the vote count was halted and all machine ballots were sealed after the complaint from Toure and Jackson, both represented by Hempstead attorney Frederick K. Brewington.
The challenge, Toure told Newsday, stemmed from residents who came forward to say that they were offered absentee ballots even though they did not ask for and did not qualify for them. Some of the ballots, she said, were alleged to have been delivered by people not authorized to do so. Those residents have submitted sworn affidavits, she said.
Justice Arthur M. Diamond issued an order Wednesday afternoon to preserve all ballots, envelopes and any election-related materials. The decision also cleared the way for the district to proceed with counting ballots Wednesday evening at the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School.
Gates, Rines, Spencer and Brazley had all expressed discontent with Toure and Jackson having been declared winners.
Gates said during the meeting that a hoax was perpetrated on the district and community and that he would fight it. "We look forward to seeing you in court," he told the board.
Long Island's representative on the state Board of Regents, which sets education policy, said the complaint over absentee ballots merits investigation by the state and the Nassau County district attorney.
"Somebody's got to step in. If the adults can't run the school board, somebody's got to step in on behalf of the kids," Roger Tilles said, hours before the judge issued his order. "Unless that board gets straightened out or gets solid, then there is no way to collaborate" to help the district out of numerous problems it faces concerning academic performance and management of its overcrowded schools, he said.
Shams Tarek, a spokesman for Nassau County acting District Attorney Madeline Singas, said the investigation "of the troubling allegations related to the Hempstead school district is ongoing" concerning last year's election and that Singas' office "stands ready to investigate any potential criminality."
Both the attorney general's office and the Education Department were involved in last year's election debacle, where absentee ballots gave Cross an edge. The challenge led to Cross' removal and the new election being ordered. Cross, who was not running this year, denied any wrongdoing.