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A judge has refused a Republican bid to limit the voting machine spots for council candidates in four Erie County towns, ruling that such a "change in the operation" would require mechanical testing of the machines.

State Supreme Court Justice Joseph D. Mintz ruled Tuesday that the machine alteration sought by GOP County Election Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr for Council races in the Towns of Amherst, West Seneca, Orchard Park and Clarence affects too many candidates and came too late in the election year.

Under the GOP proposal, all candidates seeking the same council job in those four towns would have been grouped together in the number of vertical columns on the machines identical to the spots to be filed.

In races affecting three council seats, three vertical columns would carry all the candidates, divided only by separate horizontal rows reflecting their multiparty endorsements.

At present, each candidate for the same office has his or her own vertical column on the voting machines. Republicans contend that voters would not be confused by vertical columns carrying more than one candidate, and Democrats contend that this would lead to widespread voter confusion.

Mintz, a registered Republican, who was cross-endorsed when he last ran for re-election in 1992, said "fundamental fairness requires" that at this late date in the election year, voters be left with their traditional voting system.

Democratic County Election Commissioner Laurence F. Adamczyk and Alan P. Gerstman, first assistant county attorney, told the judge that the State Board of Elections needs to first test the GOP proposal.

After the court session, Mohr and GOP attorney Ronald P. Bennett said they would ask the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester to review Mintz's ruling as quickly as possible.

Court officials said the appellate court, under state election law, will give the case an expedited hearing and ruling either later this week or early next week.

During Tuesday's hearing, Mintz suggested that the county's feuding election commissioners needed "an engineer, and not a judge" to resolve their dispute about the ballot-positioning mechanism on the county's voting machines.

The case ended up in court because Mohr and Adamczyk could not agree on ballot positions for council races in the four towns.

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