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Decision No. 18,342

Appeal of GREGORY R. IANNELLO Jr. from action of the Board of Education of the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School District and the Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library regarding a library budget proposition.

Decision No. 18,342

(September 19, 2023)

Rossi & Rossi, Attorneys at Law PLLC, attorneys for petitioner, Evan Rossi, Esq., of counsel

Ferrara Fiorenza PC, attorneys for respondent Board of Education of the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School District, Joseph G. Shields, Esq., of counsel

The Law Office of Stephanie Adams, PLLC, attorneys for respondent Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library, Stephanie A. Adams, Esq., of counsel.

ROSA., Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals from action of the Board of Trustees of the Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library (“library”) and the Board of Education of the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School District (“district”) regarding a vote on a library budget proposition held on June 1, 2022 (“Proposition 1”).  The appeal must be dismissed.

On June 1, 2022 the district held a vote on Proposition 1, which concerned an annual levy of $186,700 to support the library.[1]  Voting occurred at three polling places, located in Vernon, Verona and Sherrill, New York.  At the Sherrill voting site, poll workers offered voters a sticker containing the phrases “Your Vote Counts” and “Love Your Library” together with their ballots.  Proposition 1 passed by a vote of 351 to 296.  This appeal ensued.  Petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied on July 1, 2022.

Petitioner claims that the “Love Your Library” stickers constituted improper electioneering.  Petitioner further alleges that there were no privacy curtains for voters to cast their vote at the polling site, in violation of Election Law § 8-312.  For relief, petitioner requests that I annul the results of the June 1, 2022 vote. 

The library denies that it engaged in electioneering or partisan advocacy.  The library further argues that Election Law § 8-312 does not apply to school district elections.  

The district denies that petitioner is entitled to any relief.[2] 

Initially, I must address two procedural matters.  The purpose of a reply is to respond to new material or affirmative defenses set forth in an answer (8 NYCRR 275.3, 275.14).  A reply is not meant to buttress allegations in the petition or belatedly add assertions that should have been raised in the petition (Appeal of Nappi, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,300; Appeal of Caswell, 48 id. 472, Decision No. 15,920; Appeal of Hinson, 48 id. 437, Decision No. 15,908).  Therefore, while I have reviewed petitioner’s reply, I have not considered those portions containing new allegations or exhibits that are not responsive to new material or affirmative defenses set forth in the answer.

Petitioner also submits two additional affidavits with appendices describing “additional [ir]regularities in the conduct of the June 1, 2022 vote.”  Additional affidavits, exhibits, and other supporting papers may be submitted only with the prior permission of the Commissioner (8 NYCRR 276.5).  While this provision permits the submission of additional evidence, it does not permit parties to raise new claims or defenses for which notice has not been provided (Appeal of Casey-Tomasi, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,301; Appeals of Gonzalez, 48 id. 405, Decision No. 15,898).  Similarly, additional submissions should not raise new issues or introduce new exhibits that are not relevant to the pleadings (Appeal of Casey-Tomasi, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,301; Appeals of Gonzalez, 48 id. 405, Decision No. 15,898).  Petitioner submitted these additional affidavits approximately seven months after the reply and provides no explanation as to why I should accept them at this juncture (8 NYCRR 275.3[b]).  Moreover, this submission raises new claims not previously addressed in the petition.  Thus, I decline to accept these additional affidavits. 

Turning to the merits, to invalidate the results of a school district election, the petitioner must either:  (1) establish not only that irregularities occurred but also that any irregularities actually affected the outcome of the election or were so pervasive that they vitiated the electoral process; or (2) demonstrate a clear and convincing picture of informality to the point of laxity in adherence to the Education Law (see Matter of Boyes v Allen, 32 AD2d 990, 991 [3d Dept 1969], affd 26 NY2d 709 [1970]; Appeal of Casey-Tomasi, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,301; Appeal of Levine, 24 id. 172, Decision No. 11,356, affd sub nom. Capobianco v Ambach, 112 AD2d 640 [3d Dept 1985]).  Implicit in these decisions is a recognition that it is a rare case where errors in the conduct of an election are so pervasive as to vitiate the fundamental fairness of the election (see Appeal of Casey-Tomasi, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,301; Appeal of Lanzilotta, 48 id. 428, Decision No. 15,905; Appeal of Thomas, 47 id. 442, Decision No. 15,748).

A board of education may use public resources to present objective, factual information to the voters concerning a vote or election (Matter of Phillips v Maurer, 67 NY2d 672, 673-674 [1986]; see Education Law §§ 1716, 2022; Appeal of Flippen, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,296; Appeal of Caswell, 48 id. 472, Decision No. 15,920).  However, while a board of education may disseminate information “‘reasonably necessary’ to educate the public,” it may not use district resources to distribute materials “designed to exhort the electorate to cast their ballots in support of a particular position advocated by the board” (Matter of Phillips, 67 NY2d at 674 [citing Education Law § 1709 (33)]; Appeal of Flippen, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,296; Appeal of Caswell, 48 id. 472, Decision No. 15,920).

In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and establishing the facts upon which he or she seeks relief (8 NYCRR 275.10; Appeal of P.C. and K.C., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,337; Appeal of Aversa, 48 id. 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884).

In support of his argument, petitioner relies on affidavits from two district residents who voted at the Sherrill site.  Both residents state that they received a sticker reading “Your Vote Counts: Love Your Library” along with their ballots at the Sherrill polling site on June 1, 2022.  They maintain that receipt of this sticker could only be interpreted to mean that they should vote “yes” on Proposition 1.  Petitioner submits a copy of the sticker as evidence.  The sticker contains two separate graphics, one which states “Your Vote Counts” and a second that states “Love Your Library.”  The library asserts that these stickers “were intended for distribution after voting” and were generated in connection with the library’s annual “Spring for Books” event, which also occurred on June 1, 2022.  Despite these intentions, the district admits that “voters were given [the] sticker ... by a poll worker at the same time ... they were given their ballot.” 

Even assuming that the stickers constituted partisan statements or electioneering, petitioner has submitted no evidence that the stickers affected the votes of the affiants—or anyone else.  Thus, petitioner has failed to prove that the distribution of these stickers affected the outcome of the budget vote (Appeal of Casey-Tomasi, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,301; Appeal of Crawford, et al., 47 id. 413, Decision No. 15,739; Appeal of Holliday, 42 id. 242, Decision No. 14,840). 

Petitioner further argues that the results of the budget vote should be annulled based on the district’s failure to provide privacy curtains at the Sherrill polling place, which he asserts is required by Election Law § 8-312 [1]).  “Except in limited circumstances not applicable here, the Election Law does not govern the conduct of school district elections” (Appeal of the Bd. of Educ. of the Hilton Cent. Sch. Dist., 56 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,091 [citing, among other authorities, Election Law § 1-102).  The applicable statute here, as the library contends, is Education Law § 2030 (2).  That statute requires that school districts “provide a voting booth, or booths for voters ... to enter ... for the purpose of marking their ballots.”  While the two affiants assert that “there was no privacy booth for [them] to vote in,” this does not compel any relief for the reasons described in Matter of Orzechowski (2 Ed Dept Rep 385, Decision No. 7,156).  There, as here, the Commissioner declined to overturn an election absent “some indication that the failure to provide [voting] booths ... affected the results” of the vote (id.).  This appeal is analogous in all relevant aspects to Matter of Orzechowski and I hereby adopt its reasoning.

To the extent they are not addressed herein, I find petitioner’s remaining arguments to be without merit.




[1] Proposition 1 specifically stated the following: “[s]hall the sum of $186,700 be raised by annual levy of a tax upon the taxable real property within the Vernon Verona Sherrill School District for the purposes of funding the Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library?”


[2] The district admits petitioner’s allegation that the “Love Your Library” sticker was “an obvious prompt for the voter to cast his or her vote in favor of the proposition” and that there were no privacy curtains provided to voters.  These admissions notwithstanding, petitioner is not entitled to any relief for the reasons outlined below.