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Minnesota Senate Recount a Massive Logistical Task

Franken Coleman

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Minnesota election officials begin recounting the nearly 3 million votes in the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, they will face a logistical task of gargantuan proportions -- one that may provoke more commotion than bring about closure.

Republican incumbent Norm Coleman currently leads his Democratic challenger Al Franken by 206 votes out of 2.9 million cast -- a margin of seven one-thousandths of one percent. Under Minnesota law, a hand recount is required because the margin between the two candidates is less than one-half of one percent.

The official recount -- set to begin Wednesday -- will be conducted in 107 locations throughout the state's 87 counties and is expected to last for several weeks, according to Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Ritchie told FOXNews.com that it is difficult to say how many election officials will be involved in the effort.

"Some locations will have only one table, others may have as many as 15 depending on the size of the jurisdiction," he said.

The recount -- which is open to the public -- will call for election officials to count all eligible ballots by hand to make certain that the intent of each voter was properly determined. Ballots will be separated into three piles -- one for Coleman, one for Franken, and one for ballots where the voter's intent is inconclusive or considered ineligible due to other problems.

But with the margin so close -- and the backbiting between Coleman and Franken so intense -- hoards of attorneys will be called in by both campaigns to observe the counting and challenge any decisions they find to be questionable.

The Franken legal team -- headed by election attorney Mark Elias -- will dispatch more than 250 volunteer attorneys at various recount locations throughout the state on Wednesday, according to Franken campaign spokeswoman Colleen Murray.

The Coleman campaign will undertake similar efforts, ensuring its attorneys are present to observe all recount proceedings. Coleman's senior legal counsel Fritz Knaak -- though he declined to disclose the campaign's total number of attorneys -- said hundreds of volunteers will assist in the effort.

"We have at least two attorneys on call at every location," Knaak said, adding that some areas, like St. Louis County, will be of particular interest to his legal team.

Knaak said that he is working closely with a team of 20 to 25 lawyers, most of whom are from Minnesota -- and some from Washington, D.C. Asked whether any of those attorneys came from Florida -- the scene of the highly contested 2000 presidential recount -- Knaak said, "I don't know."

All ballots in dispute will go before the State Canvassing Board -- made up of two Supreme Court justices, two district court judges and the secretary of state -- for review.

It will be up to the board to decide whether each voter's intent can be decided and, if so, for which candidate.

"All five of us in the canvassing board come from very different perspectives and backgrounds, but all of us -- when we walk through the door and put on the robe -- we become servants of the people," Ritchie said.

The Franken campaign has also called for the review of rejected absentee ballots before the board certifies the race results -- a move that officially triggers the recount.

In a briefing filed with the five-person board on Monday, the Franken campaign cited four examples of voters whose absentee ballots were allegedly rejected for improper reasons.

"The campaign is asking the Board to include in the vote tally ballots that are determined to have been rejected in error," Franken spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement released Monday.

Coleman aides were quick to fire back at such efforts, saying the Franken campaign's request to include rejected absentee ballots amounts to nothing more than "bullying."

"The Franken campaign's decision to demand that the state canvassing board accept rejected absentee ballots was in our view a blatant admission that they do not believe they have the votes to overturn the election of Norm Coleman," Knaak said.

Though both campaigns declined to comment on how much each is spending in the recount effort, Franken and Coleman aides acknowledge that a substantial amount will be used largely for administrative tasks involving computer and telephone usage.

Ritchie told FOXNews.com that the recount will cost taxpayers 3 cents a ballot -- or $87,000 in total.