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Dressed in black and white, Rachel Smith started out all business Wednesday in the large-windowed room atop the Anoka County Government Center. The goal would be to count 63,000 ballots by day's end, starting with Andover's first precinct.
"Members of the Coleman and Franken recount teams may not touch the ballots," explained Smith, the county's election manager.
By that time, 30 members of Democrat Al Franken's team had signed in. Nineteen had signed in for Republican Norm Coleman. There were 10 tables in the county board room, with four people to a table -- two election officials and one representative from each campaign. Outside the room, more election officials unstacked the white boxes holding the ballots from a series of hand carts.
"It's a long day. There's a lot of counting. Every now and then a mistake gets made," Smith added.
Moments later, a hush fell over the room when more than a dozen sealed ballot boxes tipped over from a cart, landing on the floor. None of the ballots spilled out.
Then the recount was on. Jeff Witt, a Franken observer from Spring Lake Park, asked an election official to slow down as she began sorting the ballots into piles for Franken, Coleman and others. "That's still too fast," said Witt, who later got up from his seat and stood over the shoulder of Joni Anderson, a city official from Coon Rapids.
Media members, holding tape recorders, microphones and cameras, pressed around the table to watch the first of the sorting and counting, ignoring signs announcing that only election officials and designated campaign observers were allowed in the recount room.
An hour into the recount, the first challenge occurred when a Coleman observer flagged a ballot that showed a vote for Franken but also a blotch of ink that spilled over to the otherwise empty circle for Coleman. "I would [call] it, 'Not clear intent,'" said Christina Schonning, the Coleman observer.
As the day wore on, the pace seemed to be behind what Smith had hoped for. By 1 p.m., five precincts, all in Andover, had been counted without major changes and with just five challenges, two by Franken's camp and three by Coleman's.
Outside the room, as extra Franken and Coleman observers mingled, the talk was of politics and religion. "I'm kind of a recovering agnostic," said one Franken observer, as the others in the group nodded.
As the hours passed, the crowd thinned, many in the media left and the grind of what lay ahead remained. "I'm tired," said Smith, as she sneaked a bite out of a sandwich at 1:30 p.m.
At day's end, the recount showed no net change in Coleman's vote total, a four-vote drop in Franken's, with about 150,000 ballots to go.
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673