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updated 11/6/2010 4:44:56 PM ET 2010-11-06T20:44:56

A congressional election on eastern Long Island that had appeared to end in victory for a four-term Democrat, U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, is now up for grabs after authorities discovered they had misreported the result of the vote.

Officials with the Suffolk County Board of Elections said they discovered Friday that the unofficial tally released in the hours after the polls closed was off by thousands.

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A routine check of voting machine memory cards showed that instead of leading by about 3,500 votes, Bishop was trailing Republican challenger Randy Altschuler by a little less than 400.

Board of Elections commissioner Wayne Rogers said the original numbers were reported by telephone and relayed through intermediaries before being entered into the county's computer system.

"Somewhere within that process, some of these numbers must have been transcribed incorrectly," he told The Associated Press on Saturday.

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About 9,000 absentee ballots cast in the 1st Congressional District race have yet to be counted. By law, they could be dropped in the mail until the day before the election, and counting is not expected to begin for days.

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Bishop spokesman Jon Schneider called for all ballots to be recounted by hand to confirm the accuracy of the tally.

"At this point the only way to be sure of the accuracy of the count is to do a full hand recount of all the ballots," he said in a statement. "Regardless of the outcome, Suffolk County residents need to have confidence in the integrity of the count."

Altschuler issued a statement saying the correction to the vote totals validated his decision not to concede the race on election night.

"We were right!" he said, and offered another signal that the two sides will dig in for a fight over the remaining ballots. "We are working closely with the National Republican Congressional Committee to guarantee that we have the resources needed to ensure that every vote is accurately and fairly counted."

The Associated Press had called the election for Bishop after the Suffolk County Board of Elections reported results showing Bishop with a thin, but seemingly insurmountable lead.

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Those unofficial returns had Bishop leading with 92,252 votes to Altschuler's 88,791. The total did not include absentee ballots, which won't be counted for several days. The Board of Elections has yet to release the new, accurate tallies.

It was unclear whether the error in the election night tally had anything to do with New York's new electronic voting machines.

Formerly, voters pulled mechanical levers in the booth to cast their ballots. Now, they use a pencil to fill out a paper ballot, which is then read by a scanner.

At the end of the night, poll workers then read a printout of results from each machine, enter the results in a worksheet, and then call in the results by telephone to the elections board. Someone then takes the numbers down and enters them into the computer.

The second count is more reliable, Rogers said, with the numbers coming straight from the memory cards on the scanners.

Upstate, the race in the 25th Congressional District between Republican Ann Marie Buerkle and U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei, a Democrat, also remained too close to call, with just a few hundred votes separating the candidates.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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