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Voters Challenged in NY State Race

October 31, 2006

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) _ Before Election Day has even arrived, Republicans in one New York state Senate district have started challenging the right of some registered voters to cast ballots.

The dispute is shaping up to be a replay of the last race between Republican Nicholas Spano and Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Two years ago, Spano won re-election over Stewart-Cousins by just 18 votes _ but not before a recount that took three months.

During the recount, GOP lawyers successfully challenged hundreds of paper ballots cast by likely Stewart-Cousins voters. This year, they have filed 5,929 challenges based on change-of-address cards received by the Postal Service.

GOP workers compared the change-of-address cards with the voting rolls and found thousands of discrepancies, said Republican lawyer John Ciampoli, who led the recount fight for Spano two years ago.

``My No. 1 goal here is to keep this election as absolutely free of fraud as I can,″ he said.

The Stewart-Cousins campaign said more than 5,000 of the challenges filed during this election were to Democrats _ mostly blacks, Hispanics and other minorities. Ciampoli said that the challenged voters were from every political party but that he did not know how many were Democrats.

Stewart-Cousins, who is black, set up a telephone hot line for any challenged voter to call. Spano is white.

``They cannot win in a fair fight, so they are trying to scare registered voters into staying away from the polls,″ Stewart-Cousins said.

Two deputy commissioners at the Westchester County Board of Elections, Republican Melissa Nacerino and Democrat Jeannie Palazola, said that the process of verifying all the challenged addresses could not be completed before Election Day, but that files would be kept and the votes could be challenged after the election.

To check an address, a first-class letter is sent to each person. If the letters come back undelivered, police are asked to visit the address and see whether the registered voter lives there.

Democratic lawyer Jeffrey Pearlman said it would be intimidating ``to have police going to the houses of voters in mostly minority districts, knocking on the door, asking, ’What’s your name? Is this really you?‴

``It’s voter suppression,″ he said.

Westchester County is just north of New York City.