(UPDATED Nov. 24) Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) finished the absentee ballot count with a 235 vote lead over challenger Randy Altschuler (R-St. James), according to Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider.
Rob Ryan, a spokesman for Altschuler, said his numbers put the spread at 234 votes.
The Suffolk County Board of Elections does not release numbers during the counting process and will certify the final results after all legal processes are concluded.
But 2,051 ballots remain to be counted. That's the total number of ballots challenged by both candidates during the counting process begun last Monday. A State Supreme Court judge will decide which of those challenged ballots will be counted and which will be set aside.
Both parties will appear in Judge Peter Meyer's Riverhead courtroom on Nov. 30 to address all challenged ballots.
“We are very confident that Tim Bishop has won this election,” Schneider said in a press release issued just before 3 p.m. Tuesday. He said he expects the incumbent's margin to increase once a judge rules on the challenges, because the Altschuler campaign was "very aggressive" in challenging ballots.
Altschuler has challenged 471 more ballots than Bishop, Schneider said, with 1,261 ballots challenged by Altschuler's to Bishop's 790 challenges.
"Our challenges are real and substantial challenges," Ryan countered. Ryan said Bishop challenged the absentee ballots submitted by 100 BOE poll workers, who couldn't vote in person because they were working the polls. "So right there we're going to pick up at least 95 votes."
At the end of counting, Bishop has a lead of 97,150 to 96,815, according to Schneider's numbers. If half of the ballots challenged by each camp are allowed back in by the court, the race will be in a dead heat, give or take a vote or two.
"This race is still too close to call," Ryan said. "It's going to be a long and interesting struggle."
Ryan said in spite of the tightness of the results, he still sees no reason to conduct a hand count of the paper ballots scanned by the voting machines on Election Day. "The audit results show the machine data was accurate," he said. "I see no reason for one at this point."
PHOTO CAPTION: Randy Altschuler greets Tim Bishop Nov. 11 after Veterans Day Ceremony at Calverton National Cemetery. The encounter was the only one the two candidates have had since Election Day. RiverheadLOCAL photo by Peter Blasl
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