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Hoffman to decide on filing challenge

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Former congressional candidate Douglas L. Hoffman said he'll decide today if his campaign will file a challenge to his Election Day defeat.

One day after absentee ballot counts showed the Conservative Party candidate could not win, Hoffman told a Washington, D.C., newspaper Friday that he is considering challenging the election results in the hotly contested 23rd Congressional District

"We have people that are looking into this" challenge, he told John McCaslin and Melanie Morgan, co-hosts of the Washington Times's America's Morning News radio program. "We have until Monday to make that determination and file a recount claim. At this point, we're still anxiously awaiting to find out what the final count comes down to be and, at that point, what the gap is."

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, led Mr. Hoffman by 3,398 votes Friday evening, according to unofficial results, with 813 absentee ballots still uncounted. Essex County, which Mr. Owens carried by 543 votes on election night, has not reported results from its 596 absentee ballots. Clinton County, another stronghold for Mr. Owens, has about 200 ballots left to count today.

Mr. Hoffman offered a new allegation on the radio show Friday, saying the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now "was involved in turning this election around in convincing Dede Scozzafava to endorse the Democrat."

The Republican candidate, Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava, suspended her campaign three days before the election and announced she was backing Mr. Owens the next day.

Jonathan Rosen, an ACORN spokesman, told North Country Public Radio on Friday that his group "has no members, leaders or staff in NY-23 and had no involvement in the recent congressional election there and Doug Hoffman knows it."

"This is a desperate attack by sore loser," Mr. Rosen said.

Mr. Hoffman also told the radio hosts that some of the computerized systems that voters used on Election Day carried a "virus," a claim first offered by the Gouverneur Times, an online publication.

But John Conklin, a state Board of Elections spokesman, said in a statement Friday that "there was no virus in the voting machines on Election Day in the 23rd District or anywhere else. The (Gouverneur Times) article is full of inaccurate information and unfortunately quoted a single word from a commissioner who mischaracterized the issue in question."

Mr. Conklin said the state board learned that a software problem caused some Dominion voting systems to freeze during pre-election testing, but said most of the machines were fixed before Election Day.

"However, the human review of the software problem did not adequately identify every machine that had the problem and, as a result, there were some scanners which did freeze on Election Day," he said.

In those instances, poll workers stopped using the voting machines and offered emergency paper ballots instead.

"In the end, the new optical scan voting systems guarantee we have ballots as marked by voters ensuring that every vote is counted," the spokesman said.

Mr. Owens trailed Mr. Hoffman in absentee balloting until Friday, when St. Lawrence County reported its numbers. The Democrat garnered 433 votes, or 149 more votes than Mr. Hoffman, who finished third among absentee voters. Ms. Scozzafava, Gouverneur, finished 86 votes behind Mr. Owens.

Ms. Scozzafava has done far better among absentee voters than she did at the ballot box. She has received 22.3 percent of the absentee vote so far, while receiving 4.9 percent at the polls on Nov. 3.

Mr. Owens has 72,324 votes in the unofficial tally so far, or 48.3 percent. Mr. Hoffman has 68,926 votes, or 46.1 percent. Ms. Scozzafava has 8,442 votes, or 5.6 percent.

The radio hosts asked Mr. Hoffman whether he still thought the recount could change the outcome of the race.

"The Watertown Daily Times is reporting that those absentee ballots, the ones left uncounted, it's just mathematically impossible for you to win," Ms. Morgan said.

"Well, that's one way of looking at it," the candidate said. "It is a long shot, but we were waiting for every vote to be counted."

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