The recount of more than 2.1 million ballots in the Minnesota governor's race begins today as officials in all 87 counties set up to go through every ballot cast in the Nov. 2 election.
The goal is to have all ballots hand-tallied by early next week, and the results certified by the middle of December.
Dakota County, Minnesota's third largest county, has set up 10 ballot-counting stations in a windowless basement warehouse space in the government center, using space normally used for election equipment storage.
Elections manager Kevin Boyle said he decided to add more counting tables than were used in the 2008 recount.
"We just wanted to try to get it done this week, and we anticipate that it will take four days," he said. "But it's difficult to say."
At each table, a city clerk from somewhere in the county will oversee two hand-picked local election judges. They will sort, and then -- precinct by precinct -- count roughly 162,000 ballots in stacks of 25. All the while, Republican and Democratic observers will closely watch, and object when they disagree with the election judge's decision on a ballot.
Similar processes also will be carried out in the other 86 counties.
In a new procedure this year, local officials will set aside ballot challenges they believe to be frivolous. That's aimed at reducing the number of frivolous challenges. There were about 5,600 challenges later ruled frivolous in the 2008 Senate recount.
Challenges local officials deem legitimate will be forwarded to the State Canvassing Board for a final determination. The state board will have the option of also looking at the frivolous challenges.
The state is paying local governments 3 cents per ballot to help them handle the cost of the recount. But local governments say that's just a small fraction of what the recount is going to cost them.
According to a recent Pew Center on the States Study, the real cost of the 2008 U.S. Senate recount was closer to 16 cents a ballot, or $460,000.
"Ninety to 95 percent of the costs involved labor costs," said consultant Conny McCormack, who did the study. That included money for election judges, temporary employees, overtime and even security.
Many local elections officials say it's time to change the automatic recount threshold that requires a recount if the frontrunner is ahead by less than one half of 1 percent of total number of ballots cast.
Supporters of changing the law say that vote-counting machines are so accurate that the margin should be lower.
"A quarter of a percent would be way better than a half," said Kay Mack, who directs elections for Beltrami County.
She's irritated that her cash-strapped northern Minnesota county will be spending time and money recounting ballots when nearly 9,000 votes separate Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer.
Mack thinks it's almost impossible for the recount to turn around the numbers in Emmer's favor, given the size of Dayton's lead.
State Sen. Katie Seiben, DFL-Cottage Grove, agrees. Seiben sponsored legislation in 2009 that would have cut the automatic recount margin in half. The measure never made it into law. Had it passed, Minnesota would not be facing another automatic recount.
"We're all wracking our brains to try to remember why it ultimately was pulled from the bill," Seiben said. "Of course, it's something now in hindsight that I wish I had fought much harder for."
Seiben says she plans to introduce her bill again, and she's hoping this latest recount will fuel interest in reducing the threshold.