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State to monitor Hempstead school board vote, education commissioner says

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John B.

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King Jr. answers a question from a member of the New York State Senate Education Committee during a two-hour meeting at the Capitol in Albany on Jan. 23, 2014. Credit: Philip Kamrass

The state attorney general's Civil Rights Bureau will monitor the Oct. 28 Hempstead school district special election for one contested seat to ensure the vote's integrity, state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said Thursday.

King informed Hempstead schools Superintendent Susan Johnson he was imposing the oversight because claims of voter fraud prompted him to annul one contest in the first election May 20 and remove longtime trustee Betty Cross.

"Because the expertise of a law enforcement agency is necessary in this situation, I requested that the Office of the New York State Attorney General ("OAG") provide oversight and monitoring over the district's upcoming special election," the commissioner wrote.

He removed Cross after Maribel Touré, a rival candidate, petitioned him, charging the race was marred by problems with absentee ballots and other issues.

Several aspects of the fracas are unusual. First, state attorneys general do not customarily supervise these elections. "This is an uncommon occurrence," said Tom Dunn, a King spokesman.

Second, commissioners have rarely annulled election results, according to a Newsday analysis of 4,066 petitions since July 1991.

Until Hempstead's contested election, Cross, 68, had served seven terms since 1978. A former board president, she was among seven candidates vying for one of two at-large seats in the May election. Cross came in third on election night, behind Ricky Cooke, who has taken his seat, and Touré, with whom he ran as a team.

After dozens of contested absentee ballots were counted, Cross was declared the winner by six votes. Cooke's victory has not been challenged.

The Nassau district attorney's office is investigating the election, and Touré has vowed to run again.

This week, Touré said she was pleased with the date of the new election, saying it will continue her momentum. Cross' attorney, John Ryan, has said he does not know if his client will run, adding she is "still evaluating her options."

Board president Lamont Johnson, under pressure to solve overcrowding in the seventh and eighth grades, welcomed the state oversight.

"We will be working closely with the New York State Department of Education to ensure a proper and fair election," he said in a statement issued by his spokesman.

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