Hand-counting began Wednesday for thousands of ballots cast in three Minneapolis precincts where technical errors stalled the voting process.

With votes on roughly 5,500 ballots hanging in the balance, the outcome of races could conceivably be affected, city officials said.

For example, in a hotly contested school board race, the top two candidates are separated by fewer than 600 votes.

Officials have determined that the labor-intensive process won't be completed Wednesday.

Staff members from the city and Hennepin County are overseeing the count that started at 10 a.m. at the Minneapolis elections warehouse at 732a Harding St. NE. The news media were invited to observe.

'Excited that it's a close race'

With 18 of 21 precincts reporting, nonprofit leader Josh Reimnitz was leading neighborhood activist Patty Wycoff by 573 votes.

Reimnitz said early Wednesday that he was "absolutely not" declaring victory. "I'm just excited that it's a close race," he said. Wycoff couldn't be reached.

The Ward 10 precincts -- located east of Hennepin Avenue, north of W. Lake Street and west of Nicollet Avenue -- were unable to report results because a number of ballots have "technical printing errors affecting the margins ... that would not even be noticeable to the voter," the city said in a statement. These errors made the ballots unscannable for tabulation.

"Voters should be assured that every ballot will be counted," the statement continued.

The affected precincts are 10-1 (Jefferson Elementary School, 1200 W. 26th St.); 10-2 (Ballentine VFW Post, 2916 Lyndale Av. S.); and 10-8 (Whittier International School, 315 W. 26th St.).

Impact on teacher contracts

The Wycoff-Reimnitz race drew money from far beyond the city. A Wycoff win would preserve the relative balance of power on a board where a majority of members are union-endorsed, an edge the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers fought hard to keep. Reimnitz said he wants changes in the teacher contract, including a diminished role for seniority in personnel decisions.

Theirs was the marquee race in an election that expanded the school board to nine seats. Voters filled three new district seats and one existing city-wide spot, completing a transition to a hybrid of six district and three citywide seats.

In a citywide race, Carla Bates leads perennial candidate Doug Mann 3-1 in her bid for a second term, while Kim Ellison on the North Side and Tracine Asberry in southwest Minneapolis were unopposed.

Two board members, including Bates, voted against the last teacher contract. The union passed Asberry up for endorsement, and a Reimnitz win would bring those pushing for contract changes close to a majority.

Reimnitz set a spending record for a city school race, raising $37,000 by two weeks before the election. His contributors extended into the suburbs, and a school-reform political fund based in New York spent an undisclosed amount independently on his behalf.

Wycoff, who entered the race in the last 24 hours of filing, fought back with the federation's endorsement and spending contributed by its members that supplemented her fundraising.

The race split the city's DFL establishment after the party conferred no endorsement. Mayor R.T. Rybak was strongly behind Reimnitz along with two council members, while U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison backed Wycoff as did three council members, including Council President Barb Johnson.

The election was seen as a referendum on how voters feel about the board's relationship with the federation.

Reimnitz amassed his funds partly through his two years in Atlanta classrooms with Teach For America. That group's president, Matthew Kramer, is the board chair of a national reform group whose political fund backed a last-minute mailer featuring Rybak endorsing Reimnitz.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482 Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438