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New Yorkers Cast Ballots In Divisive Board Election

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Voters in New York City's 32 community school districts went to the polls last week to cast ballots in the most closely watched school board elections in recent history.

The outcome of the voting for the 288 seats will not be known until May 13, because absentee ballots must be received and verified.

The elections capped weeks of debate over the divisive social issues that have held center stage in the city for months: sex education, condom distribution, a curriculum teaching tolerance for homosexuality, and AIDS education.

Given the intense interest in the elections for the nine-member boards, elections officials had expected that voter turnout would exceed the 7 percent registered in 1989.

Naomi Bernstein, the spokeswoman for the city board of elections, said last week that the office was estimating the total turnout at about 10 percent of registered voters. In some districts, the number of people who voted was higher, she noted, depending on local issues.

"We expected, due to the media hype on this election, that we would have tremendous turnout,'' Ms. Bernstein said. "We had hoped for 15 percent.''

Did Conservatives Win?

The election drew national attention when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York joined forces with the Christian Coalition, the Rev. Pat Robertson's organization.

The archdiocese distributed copies of a voter guide prepared by the Christian Coalition at its parishes the weekend before the election.

In turn, the involvement of prominent conservative groups sparked a counteroffensive by such liberal organizations as People for the American Way.

When the results are announced, there is sure to be a new round of scrutiny to determine whether conservative activists succeeded in electing board members sympathetic to their views.

In addition to the Christian Coalition, The Village Voice newspaper and the Public Education Association, a civic organization, prepared questionnaires asking candidates their views on key issues.

Judith Baum, a spokeswoman for the Public Education Association, said her office fielded dozens of calls from concerned voters in the weeks before the election.

"Even if the school board turnout is not as great as we had hoped,'' she said, "the fact that we were able to talk in such great depth to so many people was a plus. Their interest was roused, and some will stay connected to the school in some way.''

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