A court battle appears to be looming over a missed deadline that Republicans say precludes several unaffiliated candidates from running on the Democratic line this year, potentially affecting two Erie County Legislature races and a major portion of the Grand Island slate.

A Republican source who asked not to be identified said Monday that his party is likely headed to court to challenge a county Board of Elections split ruling that would continue the presence of “blank” on the general election ballot. The GOP will contend, the source said, that Democratic Headquarters failed to file authorizations on time for William C. Conrad III – who is registered as a blank – to run on the party line against Republican incumbent County Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick in District 4.

The move also affects the Democratic candidacy of Alan K. Getter – another unaffiliated voter – to run against Republican incumbent Edward A. Rath III in District 6.

There also are problems associated with the Grand Island slate because several authorized candidates are members of the Independence Party.

“I would suspect there will be legal action,” the highly placed GOP source said, noting that state election law mandates that a disputed candidacy be assigned a place on the ballot and that subsequent arguments be decided in court.

The problem surrounds the Democrats’ “Wilson-Pakula” authorizations for the unaffiliated candidates to run on their line – due by midnight July 15. But the GOP notes that the authorizations were not postmarked until July 16 and now argues that the Conrad and Getter candidacies should be disqualified.

Democrats, however, counter that the mix-up all stems from a post office error and that it will get sorted out if the dispute ends up in court.

“It’s a post office problem, and they have already submitted letters assuming the blame,” said county Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner.

“If we have to go to court, we have to go to court. But we have evidence on our side to show this was done properly.”

Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward said Monday that his investigation shows a postal clerk inadvertently set aside the document when it was submitted at deadline, resulting in the untimely postmark. But Ward also said the Postal Service has evidence of a “routing number” on the letter that proves it was received at the proper time.

“We were able to determine it was received that night,” he said. “That may not preclude anyone from challenging, so we may have to litigate. It’s one of those things election lawyers like to debate about.”

Still, Republicans say they are ready to accept the challenge.

“You have to follow the rules,” the GOP source said, “and late homework is not accepted.”