clubhouse, east hampton, indoor, tennis, cornhole, bar, happy hour, bowling, mini golf

Story - News

Apr 13, 2011 9:50 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Sagaponack School Officials Might Ask For Election To Be Nullified

Apr 13, 2011 9:50 AM

Dozens of Sagaponack residents huddled in a light rain Tuesday night as they queued outside the tiny Sagaponack School, waiting to cast ballots in a special election for one of three seats on the district School Board. It was the largest election turnout in the district’s history—and it might have all been for naught.

After the 103 votes cast on Tuesday night were tallied, candidate Cathy Hatgistavrou had a 16-vote lead over Christina Reilly Martin for the seat vacated by Charles Barbour, who moved from the district. There were still 39 absentee ballots to be counted, and Ms. Martin would have needed to tally nearly three-quarters of those ballots to bring the election even.

But the district had failed to inform voters who received absentee ballots that State Department of Education legal guidelines require that the ballots must be signed by voters on the outside of the return envelopes, to ensure that each was cast by a registered voter, much as an election register book must be signed before a ballot is cast at a polling place.

None of the 39 absentee ballot envelopes had been signed in that manner, and attorney Barbara Aloe, whom the district had hired specifically to oversee the election when it became clear a tight race was brewing, told the volunteer election monitors that they could not open the ballots to count them.

After hashing out a host of possibilities, including opening the ballots to see if their votes would make a difference in the outcome, in an open conversation with the two candidates and a handful of residents who remained after the vote, and a brief discussion with Ms. Aloe behind closed doors, the two seated School Board members, Joseph Louchheim and Fred Wilford, said they plan to ask State Commissioner of Education David Steiner to have the entire vote nullified and a new election ordered. Only the state education commissioner can set aside the vote and order a revote, Ms. Aloe advised the two board members.

“This a district problem—we screwed it up, and I think the district has to own it,” said Mr. Louchheim, who is the owner and publisher of The Southampton Press and 27east.com. “I don’t think it’s fair for the district to ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen.”

Mr. Louchheim said that discarding the 39 ballots would disenfranchise those voters, an unfair turn in light of the unprecedented participation in the election, regardless of how the ballots might have affected the vote.

Ms. Hatgistavrou asked if the board would appoint someone to hold the empty seat until a new election can be held, a step the two board members said was probably going to be necessary since appealing to the state and organizing a new vote could take weeks or months. But the board members did not discuss when they would make such an appointment or whom they might choose to fill the seat.

Ms. Hatgistavrou said in an interview afterward that she thought it appropriate that she be appointed to the seat since she was the victor of the election until such time as the education commissioner vacates the vote, if he does. She also asked the board if someone could petition the commissioner to have the ballots cast at the polling place stand as the official tally and the absentee ballots ignored, a step she said later she would have to consider. “It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t count those ballots,” she said of the disputed votes.

District Superintendent Lee Elwood said the problem with the absentee ballots was a product of the district’s inexperience with such things. “We didn’t know about the signature thing until our lawyer pointed it out after we’d already sent them,” Mr. Elwood said. The district only hired Ms. Aloe after the strong interest in the election became apparent with the number of absentee ballots requested.

Ms. Martin said she didn’t have any particular reason to think that a large percentage of the absentee ballots might have been cast in her favor. As the board members deliberated in private about how to handle the vote, she said she thought it appropriate that a revote be ordered. If the board didn’t decide to ask the vote be set aside, which she expected, she said she would likely petition for it herself. “I think I would have to do that, for the voters’ sake,” she said.

The typically placid election process for members of the Sagaponack School Board rarely has more than a ripple of contention associated with it, as seats are traditionally more or less handed over to the first volunteer in the infrequent instance when a member leaves. But the tiny district, which controls only the Sagaponack School House’s handful of students, was roiled to a comparative froth over Tuesday’s vote to fill the seat vacated by former board member Charles Barbour, who stepped down from the board last month because he is moving out of the district.

1  |  2  >>  

You've read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

Typical ideology... keep voting until it goes your way... hopefully the residents will see through this...
By Uniblab (24), Water Mill on Apr 13, 11 10:50 PM
Each of the 38 people had to have requested an absentee ballot. When it was sent to them, there must have been some information about how to use it properly. ALL of them misunderstood it?
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Apr 13, 11 11:53 PM
sounds fishy to me, with an obvious attempt to influence the outcome using the absentee ballot process. they never had absentee ballots in their school board elections before this one.
By Uniblab (24), Water Mill on Apr 14, 11 6:03 AM