The election, part 3: The recount gets underwayby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Two weeks after the election, the recount finally began. That same day, the Minnesota Supreme Court cleared the way for including wrongly rejected absentee ballots in the recount.
The high court ordered the campaigns and election officials to come up with a process for deciding which rejected absentee ballots should be opened and counted.
The order essentially left it up to the campaigns to determine what ballots would be opened and counted. Some observers said that process was tantamount to allowing kids to set their own bedtimes.
Meanwhile, election officials in cities and towns across the state began reviewing -- hand-counting one by one -- nearly three million ballots.
BALLOTS COUNTED, ONE BY ONE
Elections officials counted ballots, campaign observers watched and sometimes challenged their decisions.
From the outset of the ballot counting, the Franken and Coleman campaigns held news conference after news conference -- often to claim each was ahead of the other, and that the other was guilty of frivolous ballot challenges.
"From our standpoint, we have reason to be optimistic," said Franken attorney Marc Elias. "We are picking up votes across the state. In some places, we are picking them up in big chunks. Other places we are picking them up one or two at a time."
Attorney Fritz Knaak from the Coleman campaign claimed to be optimistic as well, and questioned why the Franken side was so happy.
"I have to admit they're pretty optimistic, or seem quickly optimistic given the fact that we're actually feeling very good today about where we're at," said Knaak.
"There are clearly some instances, a significant number of instances, where the Coleman campaign has challenged ballots which are clearly Franken votes," Elias asserted.
"Well I'm not going to accuse them, let's just say that there are pretty much no brainer Coleman votes," responded Knaak.
The campaigns had plenty of money to hire attorneys, spin the story, and staff recount sites around the state.
Coleman and Franken raised about $4 million in just the first three weeks after the election. Franken was running a few hundred thousand dollars ahead of Coleman.
THE COUNTERS GET TESTY
As the pile of challenged ballots grew, some election officials were becoming impatient with all of the second-guessing.
In Ramsey County, a Franken supporter by the name of Kate found herself up against Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky, one of the state's most respected elections officials, when she challenged a ballot that was being counted for Coleman.
"Not to keep asking a stupid question, but what do you think is challengeable here?" Mansky asked her.
"I think [the mark] is beyond the oval. It's not a clear ballot," said Kate.
"Right, but that's not the issue here," Mansky replied. "What is unclear about who they intended to vote for here?"
A higher-up Franken observer stepped in and essentially told Mansky to back off.
"The reason that Kate's given is that the intent is not clear, and that's reason enough, according to the Secretary of State's rule."
"I am going to determine this challenge is frivolous," Mansky responded. "If you think I am doing something outside of the law, go to court, get an order."
At the height of the hand recount, the Coleman and Franken campaigns officially challenged more than 6,600 ballots.
When the hand recount finally ended, the State Canvassing Board took on the task of ruling on those challenges.