Sometime this morning, teams of lawyers for Thomas Suozzi and Edward Mangano will begin opening and counting more than 7,000 absentee ballots in the race for Nassau County executive.

Both men have teams of lawyers working on their behalf - Republican Mangano's to protect his unofficial lead of several hundred votes, and Democrat Suozzi's, who are seeking to find enough votes to give Suozzi a third term in office.

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Officials from both parties spent much of the last week scrutinizing the absentee ballot applications and envelopes, looking for reasons to invalidate the opposing party's ballots.

The officials have researched absentee voters to see if they live in the county - or if they're actually alive, for that matter - said Steve Schlesinger, a Democratic attorney working for Suozzi, and whether they had a valid reason to have voted absentee or if they have moved away and kept voting illegally.

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>> LATEST PHOTOS: Tom Suozzi | Ed Mangano

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"There were some people there who seem to have voted their whole lives by absentee ballot," Schlesinger said. "We're looking for them. I don't know if we'll find them all."

To vote absentee in New York State, residents must declare why they can't make it to their election districts - that they'll be away for work or on vacation, for instance, or in the hospital or confined to jail.

Attorneys are looking for complex patterns that may indicate fraud or improper attempts to skew the vote count. Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said the party found 64 GOP absentee ballots for this month's election that were delivered to voters by a single Republican committeeman.

"That doesn't mean that any one of those 64 shouldn't cast a ballot," Jacobs said. "It just means we want to take a look at that."

John DeGrace, the GOP election commissioner, said such an argument amounts to "grasping at straws."

Elections officials also will look for mismatches of signatures on absentee ballot applications, ballot mailing envelopes and the voter roll, which could indicate voter fraud. And they will scrutinize the ballot envelopes to make sure they were postmarked by the Nov. 2 deadline.

If absentee voters make an illegal identifying mark on the ballot - writing their name, drawing a picture, etc. - elections officials can move to have the ballot disqualified. Some ballots will inevitably have votes for both Suozzi and Mangano, in which case the ballot will either be thrown out or sent to a judge to decide its fate.

Attorneys and officials from both parties said they expect more challenges to absentee ballot applications than to the ballots themselves. In part, that is because there is more information to challenge on the application and return envelope.

Applicants must disclose whether they'll be away from the county for work, studies or vacation, and must say where they'll be. For instance, it's acceptable for a student to say he or she will be at Cornell University in Ithaca. But if the application says merely that the voter is away at college, the ballot won't count.

If the voter is ill or physically disabled, he or she must provide the name and phone number of a physician or a medical or Christian Science practitioner. If they expect to be a patient in a hospital, they must list its name and address.

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"A lot of it is just run-of-the-mill stuff," said John Ciampoli, a Republican attorney working for Mangano.

But as Suozzi, Mangano and their lawyers scrap for votes in the county executive's race this week, such routine matters could quickly become fodder for challenges.

>> LATEST PHOTOS: Tom Suozzi | Ed Mangano

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