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Democrats John F. Kerry and Jack Davis fared better in Niagara County on Election Day than they did in their overall races.

Kerry bested President Bush, 44,072-43,808, in unofficial results posted on the county Board of Elections Web site the day after the election.

Davis was ahead of Rep. Thomas Reynolds of Clarence, 22,527-21,131.

County GOP Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek predicted that once the absentee ballots are counted -- 4,593 were received by Tuesday -- Bush will be ahead. He said the Republicans make special efforts to send literature and make phone calls to those who have applied for absentee ballots.

"Bush lost last time by 6,000 votes (in Niagara County)," Wojtaszek said last week, adding, "It' a great victory for us."

"I don't concede," said Democratic Chairman Charles J. Naughton. "Either way, it was very closely divided. Niagara County is a conservative Democratic county."

The county's active voter roll includes 53,602 Democrats and 45,769 Republicans. Despite that edge, Kerry carried Niagara County by only 264 votes on the voting machines.

Naughton said he talked to many people who would have voted for Kerry if not for what the party chairman called "the God thing."

"I talked to a person who I know is a strong Democrat. She was talking early on about how she couldn't vote for Kerry even with the economy and even though she felt the war was terrible. I think we have a lot of those fine folks in Niagara County. As Democrats, we have to find a way to reach out to them with our ideas of inclusion," Naughton said.

A strong vote for Democrat Davis in the City of Lockport enabled him to carry the county against Reynolds. It was the only part of the 26th District Reynolds lost while posting an overall win by 57 to 43 percent.

Davis won the Niagara County portion of the district by 1,396, while Reynolds had a districtwide majority of more than 29,000.

Davis carried the City of Lockport by about 1,000 votes.

"I think the economic issue here in Lockport with (Delphi Thermal), the jobs issue, resonated very strongly with our union folks," Naughton said.

Davis' campaign emphasized an effort to stop sending American jobs overseas.

Official voter turnout figures were misleadingly low in Niagara County Tuesday.

Although the official percentage, including those absentee ballots that arrived by Election Day, was 57.6 percent, voting booths were busy all day long, and the "real" turnout was much higher.

The county even ran out of envelopes for affidavit ballots, which in other states are called provisional ballots, after using more than 5,000 of them. More had to be created on the fly, Republican Election Commissioner Scott P. Kiedrowski said.

The turnout of what the state calls "active voters" was about 74 percent in Niagara County, Democratic Election Commissioner Nancy L. Smith said.

The county's official total of eligible voters is 163,734, but that includes voters who would have been stricken from the rolls because of years of nonparticipation before Congress passed the Help America Vote Act two years ago.

"It's a lot harder to drop somebody from the rolls now," Smith said.

The active voters, those whose post cards were delivered to the correct address this summer, plus about 7,000 new registrants, amount to 127,292. Including absentee ballots received by Tuesday, the county had 94,307 votes cast for president.

That total doesn't include the thousands of affidavit ballots, which may or may not be counted depending on whether Smith and Kiedrowski conclude the voter legitimately was registered and voted in the proper location.

Kiedrowski said the Board of Elections supplied each of its 181 polling places 25 affidavit envelopes, a total of 4,525. They ran out. Another 500 to 1,000 older ones were in storage in Lockport; they ran out, too.

Kiedrowski called Erie County to try to borrow more, but Erie County's envelope supply was wiped out, too.

Kiedrowski said the phone at the Board of Elections rang nonstop all day Tuesday.

"There was no time to do anything but talk to voters who had moved and hadn't voted in years," he said.

In a seldom-seen procedure, about 75 voters who weren't on the rolls were allowed to vote by court order. Kiedrowski said Family Court Judge John F. Batt and State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III were on hand to sign orders for voters whose situations didn't qualify them for affidavit ballots.

They included people who had lived in other counties up until this year and teenagers who had turned 18 after the voter registration deadline, which was the second Saturday in October. There were also people who had recently registered through state Department of Motor Vehicles forms under the "motor voter" law and hadn't been added to the lists.

"The judges," Kiedrowski said, "didn't turn any of them down."