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What you need to know for 06/28/2017

$180M Albany school bond passes; foes claim election mishandled

$180M Albany school bond passes; foes claim election mishandled

Albany City School District voters on Tuesday night narrowly approved a $180 million bond to improve

Albany City School District voters on Tuesday night narrowly approved a $180 million bond to improve the high school, but the election was plagued by late-opening polling places, too few ballots and, now, the threat of litigation.

The election problems started first thing in the morning and continued throughout the day. Polling places opened late due to snow delays and miscommunication; a voting machine intended for an elementary school was sent to a public library and vice-versa; and, district electioneers were swamped by unexpectedly high voter turnout.

The turnout — nearly 7,900 voters — was the second-largest turnout for a district-run election since 1997, and district officials had initially ordered 5,300 ballots for the election. Later in the day Tuesday, they ordered 2,200 more ballots but not before some voters were forced to vote on paper ballots, district spokesman Ron Lesko said.

The proposal passed 3,974 to 3,785, according to unofficial results Wednesday evening.

District officials on Wednesday conceded that the election was mishandled, calling the widespread polling problems “unacceptable,” but they also rejected calls for a revote and said they were moving forward with the high school improvements.

“I know people are angry about (the election problems); we are angry about it, too,” Albany Board of Education President Kenneth Bruce said in a statement. “The board is making it a priority in the next few weeks to find out what went wrong and to create a structure that ensures that it never happens again.”

Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners, who helped spearhead opposition to the bond proposal and now the outcome of the election, said he had spoken to at least 20 people on Wednesday who would be willing to sign on to a lawsuit challenging the outcome of Tuesday’s election results. He also planned to file a formal request for all physical and digital records related to the election.

“Everything that could be done wrong or done badly was done yesterday, and then some I have never heard of,” he said of how the district handled the election.

District officials said they planned to investigate what went wrong on Tuesday, but Conners said he would only be satisfied with another election, suggesting officials should hold a revote during the state’s April primary election.

(Conners does not live in the Albany district, but he graduated from it. He said his opposition to the project was not a function of his county position.)

Albany voters in November rejected a similar project by fewer than than 100 votes. But district officials regrouped, trimmed $16 million from the bottom line and went back out to the voters — this time receiving the outcome they hoped for. The November election was run by the Albany County Board of Elections and had about 13,000 votes cast during that regular election, while Tuesday’s election was run by the district itself.

The project includes over $55 million in updates to old equipment and infrastructure like heating and cooling units, ventilation and replacement of the roof. It also funds a three-story addition to the high school to meet projected enrollment increases that are projected to increase the school to over 3,000 students in the coming years and makes security improvements to the high school campus.

“The community came out in almost record numbers yesterday to weigh in on this proposal and the yes votes won,” Lesko said. “We are very apologetic for the frustrations people experienced, but no one was turned away from a poll.”

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, zmatson@dailygazette.net or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.

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