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Primary contests hinge on turnout Brown-Kearns race leads list of balloting today

Mayor Byron W. Brown, a rising star dimmed by scandal, will put his political future in the hands of Democratic voters today.

How Brown fares in his primary battle against South Council Member Michael P. Kearns will go a long way toward deciding how much the recent controversies hurt the first-term mayor.

The mayoral contest is among today's marquee elections, and the results should offer a strong indication of what city voters think of Brown's future as mayor and as a candidate for higher office.

"Byron Brown has bases of support, and I expect him to get them out to vote," said Dennis V. Ryan, chairman of the City Republican Party.

Ryan says he isn't sure how much the scandals have hurt Brown, but he describes the mayor's base of support as widespread and strong enough to re-elect him if it turns out in large numbers today.

Who turns out and who doesn't could determine the outcome of several suburban elections, as well.

"It's really town and district specific," Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward said. "The turnout will be on a town-by-town, city-by-city basis."

The balloting does not include any state, federal or county races important enough to motivate the general electorate, Ward said, but noted high-profile races in Lancaster and parts of Niagara County.

Lancaster, where Richard L. Reese Jr. is expected to step down this week as highway superintendent, might produce one of the most bizarre outcomes in recent memory.

Reese, who agreed to resign as part of a plea deal, could take a big step toward regaining his job if town voters re-elect him today. He faces a challenge for the Democratic line from Daniel J. Amatura, a Town Board member.

Reese's lawyer said his client will admit to making a false statement to a federal agent during an FBI investigation into the use of town equipment on private property.

Primary Day may not be as controversial in Hamburg and Aurora, but just as much is at stake as voters pick candidates for supervisor. Dennis Gaughan and Patricia Michalek are vying for the Democratic line in Hamburg, while in a three-way race for the Republican line in Aurora, incumbent Dwight Krieger faces former Supervisor Thomas Cotton and challenger Jolene Jeffe.

Voters in the City of Tonawanda also will elect a chief executive this year, and two Democrats -- Jay R. Ralph and Rick D. Davis Jr. -- are vying today for the right to take on first-term Mayor Ronald Pilozzi, a Republican, in November.

In three Niagara County towns, voters will decide the fate of supervisors.

Wheatfield Supervisor Timothy E. Demler is involved in a fierce Republican primary battle against Robert B. Cliffe, a former town justice.

The election could end Demler's 14-year run as supervisor if he loses the Republican line. He does not have any minor party lines on the November ballot but could wage a write-in campaign.

Democrats in Lewiston will choose between Supervisor Fred M. Newlin II and challenger Kathryn S. Mazierski. The winner will face Highway Superintendent Steven Reiter, a Republican, in the general election.

In Lockport, Supervisor Marc R. Smith faces a GOP primary challenge from David J. Mongielo.

Several minor party contests also will be decided in today's primaries.

Voters who do vote today can look forward to a day of cooperative weather. The forecast calls for sunny skies with a high in mid-70s, not too hot, not too cold for candidates counting on high voter turnout.

Erie County's brand new voting machines might prove a wild card.

The new "ballot scanning" machines will be used at polling places in every municipality except Buffalo. The city will not get new machines until next year.

Unlike the past, when voters cast ballots by closing a curtain and pulling a lever, voters today will use paper ballots that will be electronically scanned by a machine.

The new machines are the county's response to the Help America Vote Act, a federal law requiring states to upgrade their voting systems.

Local election officials say the new process promises to be simple, quick, reliable and accurate.

"There are no more levers," Ward said. "Instead you get a paper ballot and [are] sent to a privacy area."

The new system starts with an election worker who will rip off a paper ballot from a book of ballots specific to that voter's political party. Each party will have ballots with a designated color.

The voter then takes the paper ballot to a privacy booth, where he can fill in his choices with a black pen. The voter then takes the ballot to the new machine and feeds it through the scanner.

"The ballot drops in," Ward said, "and you go home."

In the one constant this year, polling hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Erie County and noon to 9 p.m. in Niagara and all other upstate counties.

News Niagara Reporter Denise Jewell Gee contributed to this report.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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