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Glen Cove school bond voters turned away due to miscue

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During the Glen Cove Board of Education meeting on March 13, the first since the proposed $84.6 million school bond was voted down, resident Alex Pappas told the board that his parents had a difficult time voting.

Pappas said his parents went to Glen Cove High School to vote on the bond at about 2 p.m. on March 12. Upon arriving, they were allegedly turned away and told they could not vote on the bond by a female election worker who was checking the voter registry. Pappas said his parents called him soon after to tell him what had happened.

When Pappas went to vote later in the day, he asked the same election worker why his parents were turned away. He was told that because his parents had not voted in a previous Board of Education election, their names were not in the registry and thus could not vote on the school bond.

Pappas said that he saw the same thing happen to the person next to him when he went to vote. The man didn’t question the election worker. Pappas said he simply turned and left the building.

After speaking to the woman who had turned his parents away, Pappas approached another election worker and asked the same question. He was then told that his parents could come back and fill out an affidavit ballot, a paper ballot used when a voter’s name doesn’t appear in the registry at their normal polling place.

After noting that the polls opened at 7 a.m., Pappas asked the board how many voters could have been turned away before he arrived at 2 p.m.

Two days after the Board of Education meeting, Pappas said that the issue was not exclusive to the high school. “When I spoke to the people I know that were voting ‘yes’ on the bond . . . they said that Connolly [Elementary School] was having the same situation,” he said.

According to Bonnie Garone, who serves as legal counsel to the Democratic Commissioner at the Nassau County Board of Elections, Pappas’s parents may have been misinformed.

“My understanding is that, if you’re a registered voter, you can vote so long as you live in the district,” she said.

On whether or not this could be considered election fraud, Garone said that there are many things to take into account. She explained that in her experience as a lawyer, fraud depends a good deal on intent. If the individual providing the false information did so intentionally in order to mislead potential voters, it could be considered fraud. However, the lines become blurred if the person made a genuine mistake when they turned voters away, and Garone said that there was not enough evidence in this particular instance to determine if fraud took place.

Dr. Maria Rianna, Superintendent of Schools, said that there is not a policy in place dictating that one must vote in a previous Board of Education election in order to participate in the bond vote. The voter “should not have been turned away, but it was an [election worker] oversight,” she said.

Garone also explained that, while all workers at polling places receive yearly training from the Board of Elections regarding the use of machines and special ballots, the area-specific training falls to the school district in the case of school votes.

District Clerk Ida Johnson runs that training in Glen Cove. She said that all of the district’s polling inspectors are Glen Cove residents, many of whom have worked in previous school elections. According to Johnson, Pappas’s parents were the only two people she knew of who were turned away from voting.

In response to the possibility of others being turned away, Johnson said, she didn’t believe that was true and that voters may have misunderstood what the election workers were saying. “But just from interviewing the workers, if [voters] were told they were at the wrong polling place,” Johnson said, “they decided they would not be going to the [other one].”

Johnson said she took care of the issue faced by Pappas’s parents as soon as she heard about it, and that measures will be taken to make sure this doesn’t happen again, most likely through further training.

Pappas, a father of two children in Glen Cove schools, said that he doubts the amount of people turned away would have ultimately made up for the nearly 400 votes by which the bond failed. Nonetheless, he said that he was disappointed in the result.

“I wanted it to pass,” Pappas said. “I just want the kids to be in a safe environment.”

This is not the first instance of missteps occurring during Glen Cove school elections. In May of 2018, a “clerical error” in the voting process of last year’s Board of Education elections resulted in a ballot miscount. After recounting the ballots, however, the results of the election remained the same