Cook County State’s Attorney race still too close to call

By Bill Dwyer For Chronicle Media

Eileen O’Neill Burke

Clayton Harris III

The Democratic primary race for Cook County State’s Attorney remained historically close after thousands of mail-in ballots were tabulated by election officials in Chicago and the suburbs Monday, March 25.

Retired appellate court judge Eileen O’Neill Burke, who is running against former prosecutor and University of Chicago public policy lecturer Clayton Harris III, has seen her 9,500-vote advantage on election day dwindle steadily to just 1,643 votes as of 5 p.m. Monday; she remains ahead 261,885 to 260,242.

Approximately 2,500 mail-in ballots were tallied on Monday, after officials in the city and county processed 23,000 over the weekend.

Throughout the vote-counting process, a host of poll watchers from both campaigns have looked on intently as officials from both the CBOE and the suburban Cook County Board of Elections have continued opening and processing mail-in ballots. Both the CCBE and the CBOE say they are accepting all mail-in ballots that were postmarked by March 19, until April 2.

In addition, the CBOE said 2,882 total provisional ballots were cast and “will be reviewed for acceptance, rejection, or partial count by April 2.”

Edmund Michalowski, Cook County Deputy Clerk of Elections said the CCBE “built a state-of-the-art facility that we use for running the ballots, for imaging the ballots and for scanning the ballots into tally.

“We have hundreds of mail ballot judges that are managing the mail ballots right now,” he said, adding that a “bipartisan” panel of election judges will then review the tallied ballots.

There was a bit of additional drama over the weekend, when Max Bever, director of public information at the Chicago Board of Elections, publicly apologized for an oversight that resulted in 9,186 ballots not being reported in the initial batch of mailed ballots received by the CBOE prior to election day.

“I traded speed for accuracy in reporting out numbers this week as quickly as I could,” Bever said in a statement. “I truly regret this error on my part and for the confusion that it has caused the voters of Chicago.”

A recount appears quite possible since the losing candidate may request a recount if they received at least 95 percent of the vote of the winning candidate. The recount must be requested within five days after the canvass. The requestor is required to pay for a recount, though a court may waive any costs if the challenger prevails.

Burke and Harris are vying to fill the position being vacated by controversial two-term State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who declined to seek a third term. The winner will be the overwhelming favorite against Republican Bob Fioretti and Libertarian Andrew Charles Kopinski in the November general election.

Burke, a political moderate with 30 years’ experience as a prosecutor, defense attorney, trial judge and appellate court judge, has been seen by some as a reaction to concerns over justice system reforms that they consider to have been taken too far.

Both Burke and Harris support the elimination of cash bail, but disagree on a host of details related to the prosecution of crime in the county.

Burke has pointedly criticized Foxx for being too soft on crime, and contends that under Foxx’s administration the state’s attorney’s office is “woefully understaffed and mismanaged.”

She said she intends to “make our justice system work for everyone,” while vowing to reduce the threshold for felony shoplifting prosecutions to $300, from the current $1,000.

Harris, a progressive who has been endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the Chicago Teacher’s Union, has called his campaign an effort for “safety and justice.” While he calls for being tougher on serious felony crime, he also has pledged to keep the current $1,000 felony threshold for retail theft.

“We can be safe and just at the same time. We do not have to choose one over the other, we can do both,” he told WTTW television last week.