The third day of ballot counting in a key State Senate race in Nassau County ended Friday evening with incumbent Democrat Craig Johnson of Port Washington continuing to trail his Republican challenger, Mineola Mayor Jack Martins, but Martins' lead was shrinking.

Martins total was 41,356 to Johnson's 41,110, a lead of 246 by the time counting stopped for the day shortly before 5 p.m., officials said. Martins had led by 427 at the start of the day. Johnson received 290 votes to Martins' 89 in Friday's count of paper ballots.

However, lawyers involved in the count told a state judge that they expected the gap between the candidates to fluctuate as they counted ballots from different areas. The count resumes Monday morning.

Meanwhile, election workers finished tabulating 146 emergency ballots from the 7th Senate District that were not counted on election night. Of those, Martins got 76 and Johnson 51, while 18 voters had not marked the ballot for that race, officials said.

There are about 3,500 mailed-in absentee ballots from members of the military, homebound people or people who were out of town, and Nassau officials have counted about one-quarter of them. There also are more than 700 affidavit ballots that were filled in at polling places after voters were denied a machine ballot, usually because their name was not in the book listing registered voters.

Both the absentee and affidavit ballots were being counted in tandem by election district within the Senate district, and workers had tallied 605 of them by Friday evening. An additional 188 ballots were put aside for possible judicial review after Republicans objected to 128 of them and Democrats objected to 60.

The Martins-Johnson race is one of three statewide that are too close to call. Their outcomes should decide which party controls the State Senate for the next two years.

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Nassau officials said they hoped to start the state-mandated audit of 3 percent of the new optical scanning voting machines on Monday.

Suffolk began that audit last Monday, and Friday, officials tried to speed the process by doubling the number workers to 32, plus supervisors. Officials will continue the audit Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then resume on Monday. Workers have to go over every ballot from all 43 machines selected at random. By Friday evening, workers had completed 10 machines and were working on four others.

In Nassau, Justice Ira Warshawsky of State Supreme Court in Mineola, who is overseeing the results in the Johnson-Martins race, suggested that an order to require a hand count of all the ballots in the Senate race would be premature until the county finished the 3 percent audit.

With Deborah Morris