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Wilson's Lead Shrinks by 120; Count Seen Going Into Next Week

By Jeff Jones And Trip Jennings
Journal Staff Writers
    Rep. Heather Wilson's lead over Patricia Madrid shrank a bit Friday, leaving the Democratic challenger trailing by 1,487 votes with about 3,750 Bernalillo County ballots potentially left to be counted.
    Wilson, the Republican incumbent in the 1st Congressional District race, claimed victory Thursday night, but Madrid has not conceded.
    Democrats said the race isn't over as counting continued through its third straight day since Tuesday's election. The count is expected to continue into next week.
    The new totals were cause for optimism in both campaigns. Wilson had 104,863 votes as of Friday night, compared with 103,376 for Madrid.
    "That's the pattern we're going to continue to see over the next couple of days as the rest of the votes are counted," Madrid spokeswoman Heather Brewer said. "In the end, they will make up for whatever slight advantage Heather Wilson has."
    The new numbers cut Wilson's previous lead by 120 votes.
    But Republican attorney Pat Rogers said his camp had expected to see Madrid make up more ground than she did in the ballots counted on Friday.
    Those ballots were early vote ballots that, for one reason or another, were rejected by the machines that count the votes and had to be hand-tallied. Madrid has had a voting edge over Wilson among those who voted early.
    "We're more confident than ever," Rogers said. "If (the remaining count) is done fairly, Heather would win by north of 1,300 or 1,400 votes."
    If all the estimated 3,756 Bernalillo County ballots meet the criteria to be counted, Madrid would need to win 2,622 of those votes— or 70 percent— to overtake Wilson.
    The count so far has been just shy of a tossup: With more than 208,000 total votes cast in the Albuquerque-based 1st District race, Madrid has 49.6 percent of the vote while Wilson has 50.4 percent.
    The rest of the uncounted ballots fall into two categories:
   
  • There are an estimated 1,058 "in-lieu-of" ballots, which are given to voters who show up at Election Day polling places after they have already requested an absentee ballot. Those are essentially absentee voters, and Wilson has had the edge in that category.
        Before these ballots can be counted, election workers must check to ensure no absentee ballot was cast.
        Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera said work began Friday on the "in-lieu-of" ballots.
       
  • There are 2,698 provisional ballots, which are given to people whose names don't appear on rosters in the Election Day precincts where they showed up to vote. In the 2004 general election, more than half of Bernalillo County's provisional ballots were disqualified for one of several reasons, such as a person not actually being eligible to vote.
        Each ballot must be checked before it can be tallied. Herrera said that process wouldn't begin until Monday and is expected to take an additional two or three days.
       
    Hired gun expected
        Wilson declared victory Thursday when her lead jumped to 1,607 votes with the inclusion of nearly 4,000 absentee ballots. She called the margin "decisive."
        But Democrats say they believe the provisional ballots will tilt heavily toward Madrid.
        Party officials continue to allege that Republicans intentionally misdirected Democrats to incorrect polling locations.
        Republicans adamantly deny the charge.
        An eligible voter who did show up at the wrong polling location would get a provisional ballot, so Madrid backers believe they will score big gains in the uncounted provisionals.
        Meanwhile, a federal elections observer requested by Wilson arrived Friday at the county voting-machine warehouse in Albuquerque.
        Wilson had asked for the federal observer after two precincts ran out of ballots on Election Day, prompting allegations of a Democratic conspiracy to disenfranchise Republicans.
        "Usually, there's no dispute. I assume there won't be here. I'm just here to observe," said Mark Braden, a lawyer representing the House Republican Caucus.
        State Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim said Friday the Democrats also expect to have a hired gun from Washington on their side as they observe the vote count.
        The deadline to complete the Bernalillo County canvass of votes— the process of tallying and double-checking all the ballots— is Nov 17.
        The 1st Congressional District includes precincts in five counties, but there were relatively few outstanding ballots in the precincts outside of Bernalillo County, officials believed.
        Journal staff writer Dan McKay contributed to this report

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