ST. PAUL - Two issues - frivolous challenges and seeing both sides of ballots - are ones that officials of Republican Coleman and Democrat Al Franken campaigns discussed today, the second day of a statewide recount of 2.9 million ballots.
The two campaigns exchanged charges that the other side might be engaging in some frivolous challenges. Each campaign has the authority to reject any ballot in the recount, sending it to a state board to decide who, if anyone, gets the vote.
Since the beginning of the count on Wednesday, several local election officials have questioned whether both sides of ballots should be examined. The secretary of state's office says yes, because any marks on a ballot that could identify the voter disqualify that ballot.
Each campaign said it was doing better than expected in the first few hours of the recount, which is to last through about Dec. 5.
Much of the attention is focused on northeast Minnesota's St. Louis County, where some aging voting machines are leading to more votes being tallied in the manual recount than when machines scanned the ballots.
As of noon Thursday in St. Louis County, in an unofficial Duluth News Tribune tabulation, Franken was down nine votes for the day while Sen. Coleman was up 14.
Since the recount started Wednesday morning, Franken was up 19 while Coleman is up 15 in St. Louis County.
More than 100 of 184 precincts had been recounted by noon, but the remaining St. Louis County precincts are by far the largest, including Duluth and larger Iron Range cities.
In a St. Paul news conference today, Coleman campaign officials questioned why a vote or two in an unorganized area of St. Louis County "disappeared." Campaign Manager Cullen Sheehan said vote-counting machines recorded more ballots than were counted during the hand recount.
Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak said at this point the campaign does not suspect any wrong doing.
Sheehan said that he was happy with the St. Louis outcome, thus far. He said Franken did not pick up as many votes as Coleman's people expected in the heavily Democratic county.
Before the recount, Republican Coleman officials were upset that Democrat Franken kept gaining St. Louis County votes between the election and when the county results were certified. Election officials said that was because of mistakes in writing down numbers.
Across the state, few problems were reported today and both campaigns said they were pleased with how things were going.
Recounting began today at nearly 30 locations. It has ended in nearly two dozen of the 87 counties.
About half of the 107 recount sites statewide began work Wednesday, but some counties begin the recount as late as Dec. 3.
A final decision is not expected until the last half of December, when the state Canvassing Board individually examines each of the ballots one campaign or the other challenged. Hundreds of ballots are expected to fall into that category.
With 15.5 percent of the ballots recounted after the first day, Coleman led by 14,715 votes over Franken, though the race should tighten as votes from precincts in Democratic strongholds continue to be counted. Compared to election night reports, the recount gave Coleman 70 fewer votes in the same precincts and 27 fewer for Franken.
Those numbers mean little, however, as the tally will remain a moving target until the recount is complete.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty told reporters today he was satisfied with the recount process.
"I trust and hope that the process will be transparent and fair, and it seems like it is," Pawlenty said. "It's in everyone's best interest to get an accurate and fair count."
That is needed to maintain integrity in the process and so people accept the results, he added.
On the first day of the recount, Coleman observers challenged 115 Franken votes. The Franken campaign challenged 106 Coleman ballots.
In Meeker County, west of the Twin Cities, Auditor Barbara Loch Thursday reported that the Coleman and Franken campaigns had challenged at least seven ballots during the morning recount. The challenges ranged from stray pen markings and the use of a red pen on a ballot to a small tear in one of the paper ballots.
State Capitol reporter Scott Wente and reporters from The West Central Tribune and Duluth News Tribune contributed to this story.