3.18PM UPDATE: Independent Cathy McGowan's team is now "pretty confident" of winning Indi after a clerical error resulted in the discovery of 1003 votes favouring the challenger to Liberal incumbent Sophie Mirabella.
The Australian Electoral Commission said the mix-up had been discovered as part of "checks and balances" done on votes being tallied at the counting centre in Wangaratta.
"There were 1003 more votes for the senate than there was house of representatives papers," spokesman Dan Doherty said.
"They were from the Wangaratta prepoll voting centre and it was identified there was an anomaly with 1003 votes and they have been identified as first preferences for Cathy McGowan."
The 1003 votes take Ms McGowan's lead over Mrs Mirabella to the 1770 mark.
Ms McGowan's spokesman Cambell Klose said the find had given a major boost to his candidate.
"We're pretty confident now with an extra 1000 votes and not that many left to be counted," Mr Klose said.
He believes most of the postal votes will be counted by the end of this afternoon giving "a fairly good idea of the result".
SOPHIE Mirabella is back on track to record a nail-biting victory over independent Cathy McGowan in the hotly contested seat of Indi.
The sitting Liberal member last night had cut Ms McGowan’s Monday lead from 1754 to 764 votes in the two-party preferred count, with pre-polls counted and the crunching of postal votes under way.
Ms McGowan had amassed 37,959 votes (50.51 per cent) compared to Mrs Mirabella’s 37,195 (49.49 per cent), with 80.1 per cent of the total votes distributed.
Almost 2000 of the 8200 postal votes, which could decide the outcome, had been counted last night.
They favoured Mrs Mirabella 57.42 per cent to her rival’s 42.58 per cent.
Another 2000 absentee votes are yet to come.
The close count was attracting national attention as Mrs Mirabella would be in Tony Abbott’s cabinet, if she was elected.
A Liberal Party source said last night if Mrs Mirabella could maintain her present edge in the postal voting she could scrape over the line by less than 200 votes.
If the margin was smaller either way, there’s the prospect of a recount.
Mrs Mirabella remained unavailable for comment last night but the Liberals’ fear of an historic defeat was beginning to subside.
Political analysts were claiming Mrs Mirabella would win, a view narrowly based on Ms McGowan being not far enough ahead on pre-poll, postal and absentee votes, which traditionally favour a sitting member.
In the election lead-up, Mrs Mirabella, like other MPs, contacted every constituent in Indi offering a postal vote application pack.
But Ms McGowan would be hoping those filling out postal votes would have also followed the lead of a large percentage of voters who decided to register a protest vote against the incumbent in the hope Indi would become marginal.
The pre-poll votes counted yesterday followed the trend of a tightly-contested battle.
Mrs Mirabella won on preferences in the pre-polls booths in Wangaratta, Benalla, Harrietville and Merrijig and Ms McGowan was successful in Wodonga, Mount Beauty and the pre-poll head office also located in Wangaratta.
The final result in Indi is still not expected to become clear until the end of the week and the delay is preventing Mr Abbott from naming his ministry.
He told The Border Mail on Friday that Indi’s voters had a choice between electing a guaranteed cabinet member or an independent not central to the make-up of a minority government.
One of the many Coalition heavy-hitters sent to Indi in the election lead-up, Barnaby Joyce, said yesterday the result of Indi was still in the balance.
“Once the polls close it is in the lap of the gods,” he said.
“All comments are irrelevant because it is over.
“I wished her all the best a couple of days ago.
“I don’t live in that seat so I can’t tell you what some of the dynamics are.”
Mr Joyce won New England, previously held by independent Tony Windsor, who awarded his “nasty prize” from his days in Canberra to Mrs Mirabella.