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COURT RULING SEEMS TO ENSURE A SPITZER VICTORY

Another nail was hammered into the campaign coffin of Attorney General Dennis Vacco on Monday, as a state judge ordered all the remaining 21,191 paper ballots to be opened up and counted in the next week.

With Democrat Eliot Spitzer leading, however, by more than that, it is mathematically impossible for Vacco to make up the lead -- unless some as-yet-unknown voting irregularities are proven true.

The Vacco campaign, according to the state Board of Elections and lawyers for Spitzer, on Monday dropped allegations involving voter fraud in New York City. Republicans had charged, among other things, that at least 1,000 dead people voted on Election Day.

Vacco's election lawyer, Thomas Spargo, told State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Keegan on Monday in Manhattan that he was looking into one more issue that could affect the vote total. He did not say what that was, according to the state Elections board. And Spargo was unavailable to comment.

Keegan ordered the uncounted paper ballots -- which had not been opened yet at election boards around the state, pending challenges by the two camps -- to be tallied by the time he holds another hearing on the matter next Monday in Albany.

As a result, Lee Daghlian, a state Elections Board spokesman, said it appears that the deadline for certifying the results of the attorney general's race will be done by the legally required deadline of Dec. 15.

With 21,191 unopened ballots to be counted, Vacco cannot make up the difference by the paper route. Out of 4 million votes cast, Spitzer leads by 21,415. Democrats note that most of those are from New York City, where Spitzer beat Vacco by a 3-to-1 ratio. Estimates from Democrats are that Spitzer could lead Vacco by as many as 30,000 votes after the paper ballots are counted.

As of Monday, Vacco's campaign refused to concede.

"The court proceedings are proceeding," said Vacco spokesman Michael Zabel, noting Vacco would not have any further comment until all the votes are counted and the court hearings are over.

Democrats, meanwhile, suggested the Erie County Republican is unwilling to end the race, in part, because he is trying to tarnish Spitzer's image as he prepares to take over the attorney general's office.

Moreover, they claim the Republicans are looking to portray an image to upstate voters of the race being stolen by fraud in New York City -- in part to defuse criticism of the state GOP for its numerous Election Day losses earlier this month.

"Now that Republican election lawyers have all but conceded that Mr. Vacco's choice is obvious, he can now cooperate in the transition or have his name forever accompanied by an asterisk denoting his as the most graceless exit in state political history," Spitzer spokesman Steven Goldstein said.

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