The Hempstead school board election mess is headed to Albany. The state Education Department has jurisdiction over school board elections, according to state education law, so the matter now is in the hands of Commissioner John King.
That was the ruling Thursday morning in Mineola by State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Diamond, who said he has no jurisdiction to prevent the counting of the absentee ballots in question or to stop the district from certifying the results of the election. He did order Hempstead school district officials to hold on to all materials related to the election.
The state Education Department’s involvement raises a number of questions.
Is SED in position to determine the validity of absentee ballots, the crux of the controversy here?
How will SED handle reports of voter intimidation, which also have been made in this case?
What if evidence of fraud is found?
King needs to move quickly on a matter that is tearing the district apart, but he also needs to be thorough. Because the paint-by-numbers outline is confusing.
At the end of Friday, according to court papers, 231 absentee ballots had been printed and collected by Hempstead’s clerk. Beginning Monday morning, another 301 people allegedly went to the district and requested absentee ballots which were voted that day. The number seems literally incredible.
Some 61 of those absentee ballots were questioned on election night, and 30 were ruled invalid. The remaining 31 were counted Wednesday afternoon.
Before that count, challenger Ricky A. Cooke Sr. was the top vote-getter with 802, followed by fellow challenger and running mate Maribel C. Touré with 712. Board president and longtime fixture Betty J. Cross was third with 691.
After the count, Cooke’s status as frontrunner was unchanged. But Cross picked up 28 votes to 1 for Touré, giving Cross 719 votes to Touré’s 713.
At a hastily called and raucous board meeting Wednesday night, Cross was sworn in along with Cooke — for a term that does not begin until July 1.
Whether the swearing-in means anything remains to be seen.
The bottom line is the circus now has a new ringmaster, who has a difficult job ahead.