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Letter: Response to Possible Reduction in School Vote Polling Places

I was in Arizona on the 15th of this month and so was unaware of what had been discussed at our school board meeting that evening, until I read the summary of the discussions in the Dec. 17 issue of the Port News. I must tell you, straightaway, that I was appalled by the comments made by some of our board members with respect to the number of polling places that our school district now utilizes. Don’t our board members know that our right to vote is the most precious right that any of us has in this country? It is that right to vote and the respect for the results of votes that enables us to change governments and to pass laws, without having to resort to the violence experienced in many other countries. Don’t our board members also know that it is the sacred obligation of every level of government in this country that is engaged in the voting process to encourage, as much as is possible, participation in that process by the citizenry and also, to facilitate, as much as is possible, the voting process for the citizenry. And also, I do hope that our board members know that monetary costs, whatever they may be, are never to be taken in account when encouraging or facilitating the voting process. If we have board members, or PTA/HSA/Parent Council co-presidents, who do not understand these concepts, then they should be removed from office immediately, because they should have nothing to do with the education of our children.

The article quotes Mrs. Ehrlich as saying, “No one’s interested in polling places.” I believe that the federal government and the State of New York are both very much interested in polling places. I would suggest to Mrs. Ehrlich that she read “HAVA”, the federal “Help America Vote Act” of 2002, and then read Chapter 506 of our state’s Laws of 2007, which was passed to implement “HAVA.” Space does not permit me to fully explain why there has been no increase in voter participation in Port since the single polling place for school district votes was expanded to four. Briefly, the state’s education law is “stacked” against the voters. In order to defeat a proposed budget, the budget must be voted down twice, whereas it only needs to be approved of once. And if a proposed budget asks for an increase in spending that is not too much greater than 4 percent, it is likely that the voters will approve it, since defeating the budget would probably result in a contingency budget that reflects a 4 percent increase in spending, anyway. If defeating a proposed budget resulted in a zero increase in spending, which is what the voters want, then I believe that many more voters would be encouraged to participate in the vote. In 2005, when our superintendent of schools proposed a budget for the school year 2005-2006 that reflected an outrageous increase in spending, enough voters were energized to vote no and the proposed budget was defeated, twice. Since that time, our superintendent has wisely opted to take smaller bites out of the apple, rather than run the risk of having to operate under a contingency budget again. I can pretty much guarantee our board that if they should ask for a 6 percent, or greater, increase in spending for next year, that they will then see the significant increase in voter turnout that they have been looking for. Of course, if the school vote was held in November, along with federal and statewide votes, voter turnout would again be greatly increased. It could be done. However, as our school administrators and board members well know, low voter turnouts are to the advantage of the school district and they will endeavor to keep these turnouts low. That is why we may soon find that our four polling places have been reduced to one (highly inconvenient place, for many voters).

Since votes to fill vacancies on the school board are no more than popularity contests and PTA mothers are almost always guaranteed to win those contests, many voters do not consider it important to participate in those votes. That is another reason why voter turnout has not increased in recent years. After all, if eminently qualified candidates like Peter Forman, Roger Lifson, Rocco Andriola and Bill Hohauser cannot get themselves elected to the board, but far less qualified PTA mothers can, why should anyone who is not a PTA mother bother voting for school board trustees?

I will not comment about the so-called results of the unscientific poll survey that was recently taken by our board. Since any unqualified 10-year-old child could have sat at his mother’s computer and could have responded 100 times to the survey questionnaire, without anyone knowing about that, the so-called survey results are meaningless. However, I would not be surprised if our board eventually does use these survey results as one excuse to collapse the four polling places that we now have, back to one. The other lame excuse that our board may use is, cost.

Ms. Pierangelo, in the article it says, “the additional polling places (three polling places) cost the district $30,000, mainly for more voting machines and to staff all four (?) sites for a 16-hour day.” I don’t know where that number, $30,000, comes from, but it appears to be a gross exaggeration of the facts. I am looking at Page 2 of the Port Washington UF School District Budget Summary for the school year 2009-2010, and at Line Item 1060-4 on that page, which summarizes the cost of operating four polling places for the current school year, the grand total is shown to be only $24,400. That grand total is made up of five items of expense and some of those expenses (like the cost of legal notices and ballots, printing and postage, and materials and supplies) will not be reduced if the number of polling places is eventually reduced from four to one. I believe that the following costs would be the expense savings if the number of polling places was reduced to one: Voting Machines 6 X $300 = $1,800, Election Personnel 12 X $450 = $5,400, $1,800 + $5,400 = $7,200. So, rather than costing the district $30,000, it appears to me that the extra three polling places now cost us $7,200. If I am wrong about that, I would be more than happy to be corrected by whomever came up with that exaggerated $30,000 figure that was reported.

The article indicated that Parent Council Co-President Mrs. Paula Whitman believes that any funds saved would best be “returned to educational needs.” Yes, I think that some of the $7,200 saved could be used to pay for such educational needs as the imported bottled water served at board meetings and then the balance could be used to partly pay for our annual contribution to the superintendent’s private retirement fund, or for his dental insurance for the year. I have some other suggestions about spending for educational needs that I would be happy to discuss with Mrs. Whitman, at her convenience.

The article reported that Mr. Hohauser complained that “We are paying more money for fewer votes; the greater access has not been used at all.” The concept that each vote costs something is appalling to me. How much is any one vote worth, or, what is a reasonable cost that we should incur for just one vote? You might ask Ms. Julie Meyer that question. She just failed to be elected a police commissioner in Port, by just 12 votes. How much did each of those 12 votes cost? And 30 votes in that police district election were cast for two persons who were no longer candidates. Those 30 votes, if cast correctly, could have swung the election to Ms. Meyer. How much did each of those 30 votes cost? And, of course, our current county executive and our current county comptroller have just both been turned out of office by the narrowest of vote margins. I am sure that neither Mr. Suozzi, nor Mr. Weitzman, can put a dollar value on the very small number of votes that unseated them.

I don’t mean to sound cynical about this, but I do believe that if Niccolo Machiavelli had been listening to our board’s discussion about polling places at the last board meeting, he would have left the meeting well pleased with our board’s arrogant attitude toward voter participation in school district votes.

 Joel Katz