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Today is Election Day for the Buffalo Board of Education, but last-minute mayhem has heightened voter confusion in the final hours of an already confusing election season.

Whoever wins today will spend the next three years overseeing a $900 million public institution responsible for educating more than 30,000 children, many of whom are failing.

Voters who can’t tell the candidates without a scorecard may need the primer that follows in order to cast well-informed ballots amid all the chaos. But first, the latest update.

There are now 13 candidates running for six open seats on the nine-member School Board. What’s confusing is that three of them are write-in candidates, and two of those – the Rev. Kinzer M. Pointer and incumbent Rosalyn L. Taylor – sprouted up in just the last few days.

“Holy cow, this is a mess,” said Democratic Commissioner Dennis E. Ward of the Erie County Board of Elections.

Pointer’s and Taylor’s candidacies open up unexpected battles for two East Side seats that had previously been uncontested and would otherwise yield low voter turnout.

Pointer, a former president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, is conducting a write-in campaign in the Ferry District, where incumbent Sharon Belton-Cottman had been running unopposed. Pointer served as an appointed School Board member in 2007.

Meanwhile, East District incumbent Taylor has belatedly decided to fight for her seat as a write-in candidate supported by the teachers union. In mid-April, she bowed out of the race after hundreds of signatures on her nominating petitions were ruled invalid. She was thrown off the ballot, leaving candidate Theresa A. Harris-Tigg unopposed.

A few days ago, Taylor changed her mind.

The write-in campaigns, described by some observers as stealth efforts to shift the balance of the board, reflect the core struggle for control of the board this year.

That struggle has included nasty mailers – thought to be sent by the state teachers union – linking candidates who aren’t even running in the same districts, further heightening voter confusion.

What has unfolded is a high-stakes battle that places the Buffalo Teachers Federation on one side and leaders of the district’s parent group on the other. Various business interests have also weighed in, often backing the same candidates that the parent leaders support.

What follows are questions and answers to help voters understand the Election Day landscape:

Q: When are the polls open?

A: From 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. today.

Q: Where is your polling place?

A: The same place you cast your ballot in any other local, state and national elections. If you don’t know where that is, you can visit the Board of Elections website at www.elections.erie.gov and click on the “Find Your Polling Place” icon.

You also can call the Board of Elections directly to get this information at 858-8891.

Q: Who is up for election to the Buffalo School Board?

A: Six of nine seats are up for election. The six seats are district seats that cover specific parts of the city. The other three seats, up for election next year, are citywide at-large seats.

In addition to the contests in the East and Ferry districts, incumbent Mary Ruth Kapsiak is running against Bryon J. McIntyre in the Central District; Wendy S. Mistretta and Susan L. Gillick are challenging incumbent Jason M. McCarthy in the North District; incumbent Ralph R. Hernandez is waging a write-in campaign against challenger James M. Sampson in the West District; and parent Adrian F. Harris is running against former gubernatorial nominee Carl P. Paladino in South Buffalo’s Park District.

Contrary to what might be implied by the confusing, negative mailers received by voters across the city, Paladino is a candidate only in the Park District. He is not running citywide.

Q: What are the election district boundaries, and how can you find out which district you’re in?

A: A detailed district map, provided by the Board of Elections, is on the School Zone blog and available on The Buffalo News website at www.buffalonews.com. The map is also available on the Board of Elections website. Voters can also find out what district they live in by calling the Board of Elections at 858-8891.

Q: How do you vote for write-in candidates?

A. In this election, there are three candidates – one each in the West, Ferry and East districts – whose names will not be printed on the official ballot but who have said they are actively campaigning for board seats.

The write-in candidates include Hernandez in the West District, Taylor in the East District and Pointer in the Ferry District.

If you live in one of these three districts and want to vote for one of these candidates, you must write the candidate’s name in the designated “Write-In” box on your paper ballot and fill in the write-in bubble. The spelling doesn’t have to be perfect, but the name must be recognizable. Poll workers can provide detailed instructions on how to do this.

Hernandez has stated that he will have workers outside the West District polling places handing out stamps with his name on it. It is legal for voters to stamp their ballots with a candidate’s name instead of writing it.

Q: Who has endorsed which candidates?

A: The BTF has endorsed Taylor, Kapsiak, Hernandez, Harris and Gillick.

New York State United Teachers has endorsed Taylor, Kapsiak, Hernandez, Gillick and Belton-Cottman. NYSUT has not endorsed Harris, as he was not seeking its support, but has advised teachers that voting for him is “a good idea.”

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership has endorsed Sampson.

Q: How can you learn more about each candidate’s background and platform?

A: The News has run individual, daily profiles on each candidate since last week. They are all available on School Zone blog, which is visible from The News’ home page at www.buffalonews.com.

All other in-depth reports on the board elections are also available on the School Zone blog.

Q: What do School Board members do, and how much do they earn?

A: Members of the Buffalo Board of Education hire and evaluate the superintendent, approve district policies and set district priorities. They oversee a budget of more than $900 million.

School Board members do not control how much money the state or city gives to the district, but they often lobby for funding and help make decisions on how that money is spent.

Each board member is paid $5,000 a year.

Q: When will you know the election results?

A: The News plans to list unofficial results on its website as the poll results come in and report winners online and in Wednesday’s final print edition.

However, because three of the six seats involve write-in candidates and low voter turnout can result in slim margins of victory, final results for all races may not be known until May 15, when an official tally is completed by the Board of Elections.



email: stan@buffnews.com and mpasciak@buffnews.com