With just a fifth of the state's precincts left to go in Minnesota's Senate recount, supporters of Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman remain in the hunt for ballots that could tip the balance to their candidate.
Tensions rose on Monday at sites where ballots were getting a second look, with the campaigns each accusing the other of running up the challenges.
In Ramsey County, volunteers for both Franken and Coleman were flagging ballots with hard-to-find stray pen marks for review by the state Canvassing Board. County Elections Manager Joe Mansky had to flip a few of them over more than once just to find the offending mark.
"We just had some people who were inclined to challenge just about everything," Mansky said.
Coleman led Franken by 215 votes before the recount. Through Monday, the margin was 172, a comparison made possible because counties are reporting recount numbers that compare directly with their precincts' Nov. 4 results.
Those numbers are expected to shift daily until the counties complete their work. And the final outcome will likely rest on the 2,801 ballot challenges filed by the two campaigns, due to be taken up by the Canvassing Board Dec. 16.
Meanwhile, Franken's campaign sounded alarms over discrepancies in the number of ballots that registered on Nov. 4 versus the number tallied during the recount. They sought the secretary of state's help in investigating reports of "missing" ballots.
"For a hand count of ballots to be accurate, all ballots counted must be made available for review," Franken attorney David Lillehaug said in a letter to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.
Lillehaug continued, "In an election this close, and with accuracy and transparency paramount, these differences are a serious matter."
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann said his office was reviewing Franken's letter but had not yet had a chance to consider all the implications.
The final result has implications beyond Minnesota. Depending on another undecided contest in Georgia, the Minnesota outcome could determine whether Democrats attain a 60-seat majority that would enable them to overcome Republican filibusters.
As of Monday evening, 2.1 million of nearly 2.9 million ballots had been recounted and 64 of 87 counties were done. Elections in the state are done on paper ballots fed into scanners; those ballots are now being recounted by hand.
It's difficult to say exactly where the race stands because both campaigns have challenged hundreds of ballots. Unless the campaigns withdraw their challenges, they will be decided by the Canvassing Board.