The state Education Department is reviewing allegations that voter fraud occurred during this year’s Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District budget vote.
Two petitions were sent to the Education Department’s commissioner containing various accounts of what residents believe to be fraud. The school district acknowledged the complaints were submitted to the state, but said no formal investigation is underway.
The Education Department said the complaints are being looked into to see if a formal investigation is needed. Until that time, the state ruled the budget and the election results can stand “pending the commissioner’s ultimate ruling on the underlying appeal,” according to spokesman Jon Burman.
RCS Superintendent Elisabeth Smith could not be reached for comment despite several requests.
The vote resulted in the approval of a 6.8 percent tax levy increase. The district was facing a $3 million budget gap and presented a budget of $41.7 million. The budget was approved by a vote of 1,797 to 1,602.
The complaints were submitted by Audrey Toussaint and Donna Pasquini and were released to the media by the Education Department on Monday, June 25. The petitions contain complaints from about seven residents, with one of the accounts notarized by Dawn Vadney, the wife of School Board President John Vadney.
The complainants allege electioneering occurred within 100 feet of the polls, that efforts were not made to make sure residents were eligible to vote and that some people witnessed residents voting multiple times.
“When my husband, James, and I entered the school building, two young students stepped out from a door of the music room immediately near the public entrance,” wrote Pasquini. “They were wearing ‘Vote yes to save RCS’ tee-shirts. The first student smiled at me and said, ‘Thanks for coming out to vote for the budget.’ They then approached my husband, saying the same thing before stepping back into the music room.”
Other younger residents voting for the first time claimed they were not registered to vote with either the Board of Elections or the school district, yet they were allowed to vote without filling out paperwork or showing identification.
“I had never previously voted for any type of election and had my identification with me because it was required,” wrote Danielle Petraukas in her affidavit. “My name was not in the sign-in book upon my arrival. The lady … advised me that my name was on a list for all of the individuals who had previously graduated within the past two years. She told me I did not have to fill out any papers because she had already filled one out for me, but I was not required to sign any paper or show I.D.”
Jay Worona, general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association, said residents must be registered with either the local Board of Elections or the school district before polls open to be able to vote. If the person’s name is not in the registration book they cannot vote, but in some cases if a resident claims they did register and their name is not in the book, sometimes they are allowed to vote and then the vote is inspected later to see if it can be counted.
“You can’t just show up with identification and expect to vote,” he said.
The education law, much like general election law, also stipulates that electioneering cannot take place within 100 feet of the entrance to the polling location.
“Electioneering includes, but is not limited to, such activity as distributing or displaying a candidate’s campaign materials or materials in support of or in opposition to any proposition,” the law reads.
The school district released a statement that said officials were aware of the complaints and acknowledged a review of them was taking place. It said RCS was just “one of many schools across the state from which complaints were submitted.”
“Unless an investigation is undertaken by the commissioner’s office that reveals a discrepancy in the results of the vote, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District will stand by the validity of our community’s vote of approval for the 2012-13 school year budget,” the statement read.