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NAPLES SEEKS COMPLETE VOTE COUNT
RULES SOUGHT FOR TALLY AS HIGGINS CLAIMS VICTORY

Republican congressional candidate Nancy A. Naples finds herself today in the same position as John F. Kerry did early on Wednesday -- trailing by a close enough margin to keep hope alive.

But while Kerry conceded the election to President Bush later on Wednesday, Naples seeks a complete count of all outstanding ballots and is showing no indication of quitting.

"Right now we're just trying to ensure the integrity of the outcome," said Erie County Republican Chairman Robert E. Davis.

As a result, lawyers for both sides in the standoff will appear in court today to establish rules for counting absentee ballots that Naples is demanding, even as Democrat Brian M. Higgins claimed victory.

Today's hearing will result in supervision of the process by State Supreme Court Justice Erin M. Peradotto, but officials say no final decision is expected until late next week in a contest in which Naples hopes to rebound despite a deficit of almost 4,000 votes.

"We're going to lay out a plan about what the Board of Elections will do to count the ballots," said Erie County Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr. "We're hoping to proceed in a way that will have a fairly orderly recount."

Suzanne Anziska, campaign spokeswoman for Higgins, said there should be no reason for an intensive examination of absentee and other paper ballots because of Higgins' clear victory.

"The people of the 27th District have chosen," Anziska said Wednesday. "She needs 80 percent of the absentee ballots to win and she's not going to get 80 percent."

Mohr said both Erie and Chautauqua County elections officials are expected to present to Peradotto today the mechanics involved with counting remaining absentee ballots. He said about half of the ballots were already counted when they were impounded. He also said there is enough "paper out there" to change the results, and that a thorough examination will result in final results next week.

"We will use the next week and a half to conduct a count," Mohr said. "We'll have a good indication a week from Friday as to which way the race is going to go."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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