Before any ballots were counted in Minneapolis, questions -- and voices -- were raised.

In a northeast Minneapolis warehouse, the ballots were just being sorted, a first step in what would turn out to be a laborious process in the state's largest city. Bill Starr, an attorney for Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken, demanded to know when ballots could begin to be challenged. Starr's challenge brought a countering challenge from Republican Norm Coleman representative Pat Shortridge, who questioned whether Starr should be speaking to election officials at the table at all, pointing out that Starr was behind a taped line designating only a non-official viewing area.

"You are in the peanut gallery, sir, you cannot challenge," Shortridge pointed out.

The issue forced a quick scrum with Minneapolis elections director Cindy Reichert and attorneys from both sides. Afterward, the sorting was begun anew.

The recount in Minneapolis began with precise instructions by Reichert.

"It takes a lot longer to go back and recount a stack than if you do it right the first time," Reichert told the group.

Nearby stood one lawyer and 17 volunteers for Coleman, and 17 volunteers and four attorneys for Franken.

The first-day setup at a Minneapolis warehouse was six tables with two election officials at each table and at least one (and usually two) from each campaign looking on. The counters will review all votes in Minneapolis' 131 precincts, plus Fort Snelling.

At midmorning, more confusion developed. At one table, a Franken representative challenged a vote for Coleman, prompting the Coleman representative to ask why. An argument ensued about whether a challenge could be challenged. It was finally ruled that a challenger had to state a reason. Some ballots were no-brainer challenges. One was marked with an X, but it was between the candidates' names.

"It would be nice to have a rule, that if you vote you have to be able to make a circle inside a box," joked a Coleman operative.

By 3 p.m., five precincts had been counted with 19 challenges.

Election judge Willy Lee said he wanted to be involved to show that the election process is beyond reproach. Throughout the day, Lee was scrupulous about engaging representatives from both campaigns, even as he studiously counted out stacks of 25 ballots each, making sure all who wanted could count along with him and demonstrating the skills of a Las Vegas blackjack dealer.

"Maybe that's my next profession," he joked as he walked out the door for the day.

Mark Brunswick • 612-201-7307