The outcome of the tie between Gina Guma and Darlene Tangney in Long Beach Board of Education election could have come down to the district clerk Carole Butler, but the incumbent candidates ultimately voted to validate the tie.
Tangney disputed the validity of one absentee ballot for Guma in Tuesday’s election in which both candidates received 1,618 votes, contending that that it is unclear how the person checked off the ballot, putting the vote in dispute. If Guma was to lose the vote, she would lose the at-large bid, dropping her vote total to 1,617. Neil Block, an attorney for district counsel, said the district clerk has the responsibility to ascertain the results of the election and report those to the school board.
“A candidate who believes that there has been an irregularity, the recourse is for the candidate to take the appeal to the [state] commissioner of education indicating that he or she believes that the results of the election are not valid,” Block said. “But for the purposes of the board, the law does state that there is a presumption of validity with respect to the election, and the board is certainly able to certify the results as declared by the district clerk.”
Block explained to the school board the intricacies of election law, procedures and options regarding the tie vote at the Long Beach Middle School on Wednesday, when all the trustees voted to accept the results of the budget vote and election, including the tie between the incumbent candidates.
“I am contesting one of the ballots,” Tangney said when Ryan originally called for a vote to accept the tie for the second trustee seat in the election, before Block arrived at the meeting. “So, I’m not quite sure how you’re going to proceed.”
Block noted that if the district clerk said the disputed ballot is valid, the tie would stand up, but Tangney could then take her dispute to the state education commissioner. Block added that if the commissioner determined that it was invalid, he could order a new election. “It’s very possible that he could order a reelection,” he said.
In a run-off election, only Guma and Tangney would enter as candidates. Stewart Mininsky, who received the highest vote total (1,699), would be exempt. The election would have to be held 45 days from the original election, or before the new school year starts on July 1. A new election is estimated to cost the district at least $15,000, according to Butler.
However, after Block answered the board trustees’ many questions, the trustees went into executive session, and on their return all five trustees – including Tangney and Guma – voted to accept the voter totals and the tie between the two candidates, thereby validating the results.
When the polls were closed and the votes counted Tuesday night, the district did not release the vote tallies because they wanted the Nassau County Board of Elections to verify about 18 affidavit and absentee ballots, making sure that some residents were eligible to vote at particular polling sites. Board trustees and Butler visited the eight polling sites, read the numbers off each machine and counted the absentee ballots and affidavits. “After at least three recounts, the totals for Mrs. Tangney and Mrs. Guma both came in at 1,618,” Ryan said. “So, leave it to Long Beach. This is very unprecedented, very surreal.”
Ryan explained that with seniors and people with disabilities, who often use absentee ballots and affidavits, their marks sometimes go astray and it is unclear who is receiving their votes. “The one Mrs. Tangney is challenging, was such a ballot,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t clear, I guess to Mrs. Tangney and others who saw the ballot, whether it was a valid vote or the persons whose names were checked on that ballot.”
Block believes he observed the ballot in question, and said: “Based on my experience of practicing that area of the law … that is a ballot that would be interpreted by the commissioner of education as a valid ballot.
The school board will work with the state education department and the district counsel, as well as the candidates, to try to resolve the matter in the coming days, and will update the community at Tuesday’s work session at the middle school, Ryan said.
“We are going to explore the options of the run-off,” he said. “ … We’re going to do our best to expedite it and truncate it so that it doesn’t become a financial burden to the community. So hopefully by next Tuesday, at our next meeting, we’ll have more information about that.”
* This story was updated at 11:58 a.m. on 5.18.12.