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ELDRED, NY — Just when one thought the drama that has surrounded the vote on the Eldred school budget and vacant Board of Education seat couldn’t reach a more fevered pitch, the forces of nature intervened.
The vote began on May 15 at 11 a.m. as scheduled, and about 300 voters had cast their ballots when a significant tornado-like storm swept through the area, knocking out power in many areas of the district, including the voting site at the Junior-Senior High School.
The storm blew in at around 3:30 while elementary school students were being transported home. Some of the routes could not be completed because of downed trees, and the children were eventually returned home through the help of volunteers, family members and teachers.
But it left those in charge with a dilemma. A state of emergency had been declared by the County so was it acceptable to expect people to venture onto roads officially closed to cast their ballots? Could an election be called less than half-way through the voting time? Either way, a group of voters would be disenfranchised. It was a textbook lose-lose situation.
“The decision was not made lightly,” said Superintendent Dr. John Morgano. The call to cancel the election was ultimately made by Morgano and school board president Carol Bliefernich after reaching out to other board members. Some could not be reached because of loss of phone and cell service.
Before making the call, they consulted with the County Board of Elections, the State Education Department and the district’s attorneys. The County Board stated that their responsibility was limited to providing the voting machines. The State Education Department advised that it was a local decision. The attorneys advised that if the election was cancelled, the votes already cast would be invalid.
Those who cast their votes on May 15 will need to vote again. The date is yet to be determined.
The state of emergency was extended through Wednesday, so it will be Thursday at the earliest before a new election date can be determined. The district will look to the attorneys to determine how much lead time is necessary to set a new election date.
The challenge of how to notify voters of the cancellation left many unhappy. The district utilized the messenger text system but this reaches out only to those who have active involvement in the district. Others found out only when they showed up to an empty parking lot and a sign with the word “cancelled” written on a directional sign, by word-of-mouth or by social media postings. Similarly, one of the challenges to dealing with this unprecedented situation will be how to notify voters of the new date.
On the ballot was the vote on the budget, a seat on the school board and funding for the Sunshine Hall Free Library. Of the three items, only the library budget was without controversy, as the school board seat has been hotly contested and the propriety of the budget, which incorporates $800,000 of cuts, has been the source of much debate. Some believe it has not cut enough or has not cut the proper line items.
Already the most talked-about and controversial school vote in recent memory, the story line will continue. Keep reading.