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Albany High Vote Appeal Petition Moves Forward

Citing what he calls a “flawed” referendum process, Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners has followed through with a threat to petition the state education commissioner to throw out the results of this month's Albany High School renovation re-vote and order the county Board of Elections to conduct a new election.

The comptroller was against the second vote on the $180 million high school renovation even before problems at polling sites across the city.    "There's no doubt that there's an overwhelming number of people who were not allowed to vote, could not vote, could not access their polling place because it wasn't open or because it was locked, or because there were no signs that say where to get into the building, so it's clear that there should be a new vote."

Conners spearheaded the movement to throw out the February 9 vote, with backing from voters on both sides of the issue.  "That petition does several things. The first thing it does obviously is it brings notice that we'd like to have the election overturned for many reasons of irregularities, illegalities, voter packing, misuse of public funds, a whole laundry-list of violations. But it also asks for a stay of the implementation of the election, and that stay has to be responded to in three business days, and then we respond to that."


The petition contends 14 of the 53 polling clerks were not trained in how to use the voting machines.  Albany City School District officials confirm they received the petition, which includes complaints form 27 residents, late Wednesday, but haven't yet reviewed it.   Conners says " So what I'm hoping this petition does is give us a roadmap to clear and reasonable heads having a new election for the project as proposed by the school district."

Department of Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia would have to find improper activity occurred on voting day in order to force a third vote. However, should she decide the vote stands, Conners promises he'll file a federal lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act.

Albany Common Council Member Frank Commisso Jr. represents the city's 15th ward.   "The school district has said that they were unprepared for the turnout they had on that day. The official recorded tally is about 7,700 voters. And who knows how many voters were turned away? When they came to polling places that didn't have ballots, how would they possibly vote? How would they have any confidence that their vote would be counted?"

Conners adds:  "They ordered too few ballots, and we believe, on purpose, so they wanted the machines to run out of paper ballots right around 4, when the rush comes for voting, so they would get the desired outcome.

District officials say they planned to discuss Conners' at the school board's regular bimonthly meeting Thursday, and in the meantime say they've been conducting their own investigation.

The board expects to hear from attorney Jeff Honeywell, whose office reviewed the events surrounding the  vote.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education replied to a request for comment by email, stating "We did receive the appeal in the Albany High School Vote.  Aggrieved parties have 30 days to commence an appeal under Education Law section 310.   A 310 appeal is the means by which the Commissioner resolves school election disputes."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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