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Democrat's Winning Margin in Upstate New York House Race in Doubt

The special election last week for the 23rd Congressional District seat in New York may not be over after all.

Though Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman conceded and Democrat Bill Owens was sworn into Congress last week, the routine recanvassing of votes shows Owens' lead has narrowed to 3,026 votes, with about 5,800 absentee ballots received so far that have yet to be counted. The final outcome rests on uncounted absentee ballots, and more than 10,000 were sent out.

The county Boards of Election are still recanvassing votes and it could be the end of November before a final count is certified. If the count overturns the election, Owens could be removed from office.

The Hoffman campaign conceded when it learned it had a narrow edge in Oswego County -- considered the Conservative candidate's base -- and after campaign workers learned Owens led by 5,335 votes with 93 percent of the returns in.

"On election night we were kind of stunned -- and that's kind of why we conceded -- how poorly we did in Oswego," Hoffman spokesman Rob Ryan said. "Then we found out a few days later that the numbers were narrowing because of reporting problems."

Initially Hoffman was reported to have a 500-vote lead in Oswego County, but recanvassing indicates he actually won there by 1,748 votes: 12,748 to 11,000.

"Who knows? We may have a shot," Ryan said.

"Having just gone through this race, and having seen everything that's gone on, it's possible," he said.

The Syracuse Post-Standard first reported that problems in some counties resulted in underreporting of votes for Hoffman on election night Nov. 3.

"Mistakes are found, somebody put the wrong number in a column, or numbers are transposed. ... It's not uncommon," said John Conklin, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections.

It's still unlikely that Hoffman could come back; he would need to win roughly 75 percent of the 5,800 absentee ballots that have been returned, Conklin said.

The counties have 15 days after the election to complete recanvassing and they don't have to forward the results to the state until Nov. 28.

"Doug Hoffman conceded, knowing that there was no way he could take the lead in the finally tally, and that's exactly why the election results were not contested," said Shripal Shah, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Owens was sworn in Friday, in time to cast a vote on a historic health care overhaul bill, helping House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reach the majority she needed to pass it. The House passed the legislation 220-215.

The state Board of Elections wrote to the House clerk last week explaining that the state hasn't certified the election because there wasn't an official winner yet.

Since he still leads by about 3,000 votes and the Hoffman campaign hasn't contested the race, Owens' swearing-in was legal.

But if recanvassing produces a different result, the Democratic-led House would have to determine how to proceed and whether Owens must be replaced by Hoffman.

Hoffman's campaign is monitoring the recanvassing.

Owens' spokesman refused to answer questions about the election, other than to release a statement that the congressman is focusing on the district's issues.

The 23rd Congressional District is in rural upstate New York.