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In what Democrats dismissed as a last gasp from Attorney General Dennis Vacco's campaign, Republican lawyers on Monday alleged at least 1,000 dead people voted in New York City on election day.

No proof was offered at a court hearing in Manhattan, however, and a state judge gave the feuding sides until next Monday to show whether the court even has jurisdiction over such charges.

With Eliot Spitzer, as of Monday evening, holding a 21,365-vote lead out of more than 4 million cast statewide, the numbers are still pointing against Vacco's re-election chances.

Even state election officials, for the first time, were suggesting the race may be over. Lee Daghlian, an election board spokesman in Albany, said Spitzer's lead has been holding steady by about 20,000 to 22,000 votes since election night. On Monday, numbers from paper balloting in Westchester County finally came in, and Spitzer picked up more votes there than Vacco. Only about 1,000 paper ballots are left to count in Erie County.

"Unless they find some massive fraud, this is going to be basically the way it turns out," Daghlian said of Spitzer's current 21,365 lead. He noted that it is "very difficult" to prove election fraud.

"Are the allegations enough to overturn this election? I doubt it," Daghlian said.

Democrats insisted that even if all of the Republicans' latest allegations are true, which they questioned, Vacco would still not get enough votes to change places with Spitzer in the race's lead position.

"Every one of their allegations, so far, has been nonsense," said Henry Berger, an election lawyer for the Spitzer campaign. He said even if votes were cast in the names of dead people -- a not-so-rare phenomenon in New York -- there can be no proof offered to show which candidate, if either, were actually voted for.

Republican Party officials and lawyers working on the Vacco vote counting effort did not return calls for comment.

A state judge from Albany, Thomas Keegan, who has been hearing the charges and counter-charges for the past couple of weeks in a Manhattan courtroom, set next Monday as what is likely to be a key hearing to decide the race's outcome.

Court officials said Keegan also wants some kind of plan put in place to deal with resolving about 21,200 paper ballots still not counted from absentee and others who did not use voting machines on election day.

Berger estimated 18,000 of those paper ballots have not been counted because of challenges brought by the Vacco camp; most of those, he said, were from New York City, where Spitzer beat Vacco by a 3-1 ratio. He estimated that if all the paper ballots are opened, which the Democrats offered to do on Monday over Republican objections, Spitzer's lead would jump to as many as 30,000 votes.

Intermediate string overflow Cannot justify line Despite the daily bad news for Vacco's camp, which was capped by last week's declaration of victory by Spitzer, Republican backers were still holding out hope. "Based on what I heard today (after the court hearing), I don't think it's over," said Robert Davis, Erie County Republican Party chairman.

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