It's mathematically possible that Douglas L. Hoffman could pass Rep. William L. Owens when all absentee ballots in the 23rd Congressional District race are counted, although the Conservative Party candidate's deficit is likely too large to overcome.
Mr. Owens has garnered 68,963 votes, according to the most recent unofficial results in the 11-county district, and leads Mr. Hoffman by 3,176 votes. There are at least 7,178 absentee ballots districtwide that have been received by elections officials and will be opened Tuesday. That count likely will take at least three days.
For Mr. Hoffman, the math is daunting.
When the ballots were sent out, the race also included Republican Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava. After suspending her campaign with three days remaining in the race, Ms. Scozzafava still earned 6,903 votes, or 4.9 percent of the total vote cast on Election Day.
If Ms. Scozzafava takes only that same percentage of the absentee vote, many of which were returned before she withdrew from the race, Mr. Hoffman will need 4,998 votes, or 69.6 percent of the absentee ballots, to Mr. Owens's 25.5 percent in order to come out on top.
Mr. Hoffman, Lake Placid, received 46.4 percent of the vote on Election Day. Mr. Owens, a Plattsburgh Democrat, received 48.7 percent of the vote.
At the low point of her support during her active campaign, a Siena Research Institute poll released the day Ms. Scozzafava suspended her run suggested she had support from 20 percent of voters. If Ms. Scozzafava takes 20 percent of the absentee vote, Mr. Owens will need just 1,282 votes, or 18 percent, to hold off Mr. Hoffman.
The gap between Mr. Owens and Mr. Hoffman has shrunk by 2,159 since election night, after Oswego and Jefferson elections commissioners discovered human error had led to inaccurate reporting of results.
Mr. Hoffman trailed in Jefferson County on election night by 557 votes. Now he's up here by 424 votes. The Conservative candidate led in Oswego County by 500 votes on election night. Now he leads by 1,748 votes.
Sean M. Hennessey, Jefferson County Democratic elections commissioner, said poll inspectors in four districts reported Mr. Hoffman had received zero votes after inadvertently reading the wrong line of the poll system's printout. The commissioner said results in some other districts were either incorrectly relayed by the poll worker or incorrectly typed by the part-time staff answering phones at the county department.
"The machines were not at fault," said Jerry O. Eaton, county Republican elections commissioner. "It's all human error that happens every election."
The shrinking deficit spurred some conservative bloggers, such as Michelle Malkin, to wonder aloud Thursday if Mr. Hoffman had given up on the race too early.
Robert H. Ryan, Mr. Hoffman's spokesman, said his candidate "probably would have" conceded if the deficit on election night stood at just over 3,000 votes, as it does today.
"Three thousand votes is a lot to make up," he said. "It has to be in the mid-hundreds to be thinking about" a challenge.
Mr. Ryan said his candidate has filed no legal challenges over the results, although the campaign has dispatched lawyers to monitor recanvassing efforts in several counties.
Mr. Owens declined to comment directly on the race results when asked Thursday.
"We're moving forward," he said during an event at Fort Drum. "We're out doing the work of the people of the 23rd, and we're going to continue to focus on that."
Absentee ballots from military personnel that arrive at local boards of elections by Monday will still be counted, provided they were postmarked on or before Election Day. But Mr. Eaton said the trickle of ballots to the Jefferson elections office has dried up. The county has the district's largest military population because of Fort Drum. The elections office sent out 605 absentee ballots to military, but only 51 have returned so far.
Times staff writer Joanna Richards contributed to this report.