Update at bottom: Owens' lead over Hoffman widens; reports of computer virus in voting machines
Poll: More than half of Republicans believe ACORN stole '08 election
The Conservative Party candidate in a closely-watched upstate New York congressional election has accused the activist group ACORN of trying to steal the election for his Democratic Party opponent -- a claim that even Republican election officials are denying.
"I ran a different kind of campaign, one where Conservatives, Republicans, Libertarians, Tea Party and 9/12 activists rallied around," Doug Hoffman wrote on his campaign Web site. "ACORN, the unions and Democratic Party were scared, and that's why they tampered with the ballots of voters in NY-23."
The race for New York's 23rd congressional district became national news when prominent Republicans, including Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, abandoned the moderate Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, and threw their support behind a candidate from the Conservative Party, exposing a rift between the GOP's right-wing base and its shrinking contingent of moderates.
Scozzafava withdrew from the race three days before election day, and surprised many observers when she urged her supporters to vote for Bill Owens, the Democratic candidate. Hoffman conceded defeat to Owens on election night, but when recounts of the vote showed Owens' victory margin narrowing from slightly more than 5,000 votes to around 3,000, Hoffman withdrew his concession.
On Thursday, he upped the ante and accused ACORN of meddling in the election. In a letter to supporters, entitled "Stop Another Stolen Election," Hoffman wrote:
I'm sure you are as dismayed as I am to learn of the mischief that took place in Oswego and neighboring counties. We know this would not be the first time for the ACORN faithful to tamper with democracy.
Oswego County elections officials blame the mistakes on "chaos" in their call-in center that included a phone system foul-up, and on inspectors who read numbers incorrectly when phoning in results. This sounds like a tactic right from the ACORN playbook.
Hoffman's accusations are "absolutely false," said the Republican elections commissioner for New York's Jefferson County, where the vote total had to be revised. And Oswego County clerk George Williams, a Republican, described Hoffman's allegations as "not accurate," reports the Watertown Daily Times. Williams told the paper he saw no evidence of vote-tampering on election night.
Election observers give Hoffman little chance of winning the election through recounts or by way of the remaining absentee ballots yet to be counted. Eric Kleefeld at TalkingPointsMemo reports that of the remaining 4,262 absentee ballots still to be counted, Hoffman would have to win 2,842 to even up with Owens. That would represent a much higher percentage of the vote than he been receiving so far.
POLL: 52 PERCENT OF REPUBLICANS THINK ACORN STOLE '08 ELECTION
Hoffman's assertions about ACORN come on the same day as a new poll (PDF) from Public Policy Polling suggests more than half of self-identified Republicans -- 52 percent -- believe ACORN stole the 2008 election for Barack Obama. Only 27 percent say Obama won the election fair and square.
"Clearly the ACORN card really is an effective one to play with the voters who will decide whether Hoffman gets to be the Republican nominee in a possible repeat bid in 2010," the polling firm said on its blog.
Public Policy Polling carried out research primarily for Democratic politicians and is generally a partisan pollster. It has been accused in the past of skewering its numbers for political purposes. After it ran a series of polls showing Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) in danger of losing his re-election bid despite the lack of a Democratic challenger, Burr's Republican allies "question[ed] the firm’s analysis and accus[ed] it of being a cheerleader for the Democratic Party," Politico reports.
UPDATE: OWENS WIDENS LEAD; CLAIMS OF COMPUTER VIRUS IN VOTING MACHINES
As absentee ballots continue to be counted in the race for New York's 23rd congressional district, The Hill reports that Democrat Bill Owens' lead over Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman is now growing. While earlier recounts in several counties showed Hoffman closing in on Owens, that trend now appears to be ending:
The Watertown Daily Times is reporting that Hoffman now trails Owens by 3,105 votes with 3,072 absentee ballots left to be counted. Even if Hoffman were to win all the remaining ballots, he would still come up 33 votes short.
With 58.6 percent of all absentees counted, the paper notes that Hoffman has gained 71 votes on Mr. Owens so far.
And the Gouverneur Times in upstate New York reports that election officials discovered a computer virus in the machines in one county, and managed to fix the problem before the election, but the newspaper casts doubt on the veracity of results from voting machines in other counties:
None of the machines (from the same manufacturer) used in the other counties within the 23rd district were looked at nor were they recertified after the "reprogramming" that occurred in Hamilton County.
Republican Commissioner Judith Peck refused to speculate on whether the code that governs the counts could have been tampered with. She indicated that "as far as I know, the machine in question was not functioning properly and was repaired" by the technician.
The report is certain to add fuel to claims by Hoffman that the election was tampered with.