Necks craned, glasses were perched on the ends of noses and everyone peered at two ballots that had been cast in last week's Edina election. On one, an absentee voter had drawn and filled in black circles on the right side of candidates' names instead of blacking in the ovals provided on the left. But the voter's intent was clear.

On the second ballot, the voter had drawn faint, incomplete circles on the ovals next to candidates' names. For many offices, the voter had voted for too many candidates, including the City Council and U.S. Senate races. The squiggle next to Norm Coleman's name circled the oval, while the one next to Al Franken's name had a tail that ended up in the middle of the oval.

"This ballot will be challenged by Coleman and Franken because they marked both," said Edina City Clerk Deb Mangen.

Thursday's all-day hand recount of 31,512 Edina ballots was intended to settle a close City Council race, but it also acted as a sort of dry run for next week's city recount of ballots for the disputed U.S. Senate race between Franken, a DFLer, and Coleman, a Republican. Heading into the recount, Coleman has a 206-vote statewide lead, according to the secretary of state's totals.

David Ulvin sat near the door of council chambers at City Hall, observing the recount for the Coleman campaign. "This is like the warm-up for the World Series," he said.

Sixteen election judges and sworn city staff worked in pairs at eight tables. Sealed white cardboard boxes holding a maximum of 1,000 ballots each were removed from the locked Police Department property room for the recount.

Judges removed blue plastic ties that locked the boxes and sliced through certificates that had been signed by judges on election night and used to seal the box tops shut. When they finished recounting, boxes were relocked and sealed with new signed certificates.

Ballots with write-in votes were kept in separate, sealed Manila envelopes. Mangen tracked the recount on a laptop computer that projected the results on flat-screen TVs that hung from the ceiling.

The City Council recount was done because just 130 votes separated second-place Mary Brindle from third-place Josh Sprague in a contest that would send the top two finishers to the council. (Incumbent Ann Swenson was the top vote-getter.) Because Brindle and Sprague were separated by less than .5 percent of total votes cast, Sprague was entitled to a recount. He also wanted to make sure ballots in certain precincts were recounted because his vote totals were exactly the same in two pairs of precincts, leading him to wonder if that was coincidence or a mistake.

Sprague and Brindle sat at the back of the room, watching. Mangen brought oddly marked ballots to them, explaining why they would be accepted or rejected. Brindle has been an election judge in Edina for about 20 years and said she missed the duty last week when she had to pass because she was on the ballot.

"I so appreciate what these people are doing," she said. "This is a big deal. ... It's great to see democracy parade right in front of you."

In the end, Brindle remained the winner. She lost just three votes, while Sprague gained three. So Brindle's margin of victory dropped from 130 votes to 124 votes.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380