MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) - The Senate campaign in Minnesota between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken was considered to be quite nasty, with attack ads and angry statements by both sides. Now, it seems the recount between the two candidates could be just as ugly.
Two weeks and one day after Election Day, a mandatory recount is underway in the state in the battle for Coleman's seat. Workers at 107 sites across Minnesota Tuesday began counting the more than 2.9 million votes cast in the contest.
Unofficial results put Coleman, a freshman Republican senator, just 215 votes ahead of his Democratic challenger, Al Franken, known across the country from his days on Saturday Night Live and from his years as a talk show host on Air America, the progressive radio network. The slim margin for Coleman, far less than one half of one percent, triggered an automatic recount, the first time there's ever been a recount of a US senate race in Minnesota.
Now election officials are beginning the long process of recounting all of the ballots. They're surrounded by election observers and lawyers from both campaigns, and the media.
Already today votes are being contested by observers from both campaigns. And the Associated Press reports that a volunteer observer for Coleman was asked to step out of the recount room in Ramsey County when he loudly questioned the picking up by Franken of three votes in one precinct.
In Minneapolis, by mid-day, there was one ballot challenged in the elections warehouse location, where the re-count is underway for all of the city's ballots. Minnesota's largest city is part of Hennepin County, a large county which has several other recount locations serving it. But there could be more challenged ballots by the end of the day as ballots are put into a pile of potentially challenged ballots throughout the day. Challenged ballots go on to the state canvassing board, which oversees the recount, for review.
Even though the recount has begun, there are still legal challenges. Franken's campaign contends that there are some rejected absentee ballots that should be counted.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says he thinks major interruptions with court actions will be avoided.
"I think people feel really confident that we're going to move forward and just et this done. That is the feeling you get and I think that's the commitment that people have so that's how I feel about it as well."
Ritchie, a Democrat, has come under criticism by Republicans the past week for what they say are moves to favor Franken. Ritchie disputes that and points to the fact that the five member canvassing board is made up of himself two state supreme court justices and two district judges who are equally divided by party.
The recount will extend well into December. The recount sites across Minnesota have a deadline of the first week of December to report their results. After that the state's canvassing board meets to rule on disputed ballots and to certify the election. And after that, if one side is not happy with the results, legal action could be possible.
Even though the recount has begun, there are still legal challenges. Wednesday, the Franken campaign won a partial victory.
A judge in Ramsey County granted the Franken campaign access to information it requested on voters whose absentee ballots were rejected.
The campaign's communications director Andy Barr applauded the move, saying, "We are pleased with this development, and especially gratified that Judge Lindman recognized that our efforts are intended 'to ensure that each valid vote is properly counted."
The Coleman camp fired back. Campaign Manager Cullen Sheehan urged the Franken campaign to "exercise restraint in use of voter data," adding "voters whose information will now be released should not be subjected to harassment or intimidation."