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Eileen O’Neill Burke, Clayton Harris Remain Locked in Tight Battle Wednesday to Replace Kim Foxx as Cook County State’s Attorney | Chicago News

Eileen O'Neill Burke and Clayton Harris III are running for the Democratic nomination in the race for Cook County state's attorney.  (Photos provided)Eileen O’Neill Burke and Clayton Harris III are running for the Democratic nomination in the race for Cook County state’s attorney. (Photos provided)

As some precincts and mail-in ballots continue to be tallied after Election Day, the race between retired judge Eileen O’Neill Burke and former prosecutor Clayton Harris to become Cook County’s next state’s attorney remains too close to call — and it could stay that way for days.

On Wednesday night, the Chicago Board of Elections released a statement saying the candidates requested to review the processing and counting of vote-by-mail ballots received on Election Day and through the counting period ending April 2.

Processing of vote-by-mail ballots will resume Thursday, the board said, while election judges will begin scanning and counting the ballots Friday. The first new unofficial election results will be available Friday night; the count will be updated on a rolling basis.

The latest update in vote totals from the Associated Press came just after 12:30 am Wednesday, as O’Neill Burke continued to hold a slight 51-49% edge over Harris. While she led throughout the night Tuesday, her lead shrunk as more precincts reported. As of the most recent tally, fewer than 10,000 votes separated the pair.

Chicago election officials also said there were nearly 110,000 outstanding vote-by-mail ballots in the city alone, which could swing the election one way or the other. Not all of those are expected to be returned, officials said, adding that they typically see between 80-85% of all vote-by-mail ballots submitted. Those ballots need to have been dropped off or postmarked by Tuesday and received by April 2 to count.

As of Wednesday morning, 20 Chicago precincts and one suburban precinct had not yet reported their results.

In Chicago, election judges at those 20 precincts were unable to properly transmit results and left their sites before that could be completed, according to Max Bever, director of public information at the Chicago Board of Elections.

“The ballot scanner SD cards are being retrieved to check against paper ballots and we hope to have 100% of precincts reporting by tonight, but possibly tomorrow morning,” Bever said in an email Wednesday to WTTW News.

Board staff are continuing to scan ballots ahead of a review by election judges. Officials expect a big drop of vote-by-mail ballot results to be added to the unofficial results on Thursday.

“Ultimately, the picture for contests will be much clearer by this weekend,” Bever said.

A spokesperson for the Cook County Clerk’s Office, which handles elections in the county’s suburbs, said they anticipated updating their vote-by-mail ballot totals Thursday.

The state’s attorney race was among the most contentious on Tuesday’s primary election slate, as incumbent Kim Foxx opted against running for a third term.

Neither candidate opted to declare victory Tuesday. O’Neill Burke told supporters she was “cautiously optimistic” about her slim lead, but maintained “we have to make sure all the voters are counted.”

Harris asked his backers for patience.

“Regardless of who wins tomorrow our fight for safety and justice does not end,” he said.

O’Neill Burke — a former circuit and appellate level judge, who also served as both an assistant state’s attorney and defense attorney — is running as a tough-on-crime candidate, which he believes is a necessary response to Foxx’s softer approach to low -level crimes.

For example, she’s pledged to reduce the threshold for felony shoplifting prosecutions. Under Foxx, the value of stolen goods must be worth at least $1,000 or a defendant must have 10 prior convictions before they can be charged with a shoplifting felony. O’Neill Burke said she’d lower that total to $300, as defined by state law.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who endorsed O’Neill Burke and attended her election party Tuesday, said the race offers an opportunity to move away from the status quo of “basically no accountability for serious violent crimes.”

“It’s important to remember that her role after the election is to govern as state’s attorney and represent all Chicagoans and all Cook County residents, whether she agrees with their beliefs or doesn’t believe with their beliefs,” Mendoza said.

Harris, who lives in Washington Park, is the progressive pick in the race and has received endorsements from the Cook County Democratic Party, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the Chicago Teachers Union.

He said preventing violent crimes and aggressively prosecuting gun crimes are top priorities.

State Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago), who backed Harris, said his vision for the office fell in line with the representative’s legislative work on the SAFE-T Act, the criminal justice reform law that in part made Illinois the first state to abolish cash bail .

“Both candidates have their hearts in the right place,” Buckner said. “I believe Clayton’s vision aligns more with mine.”

Eunice Alpasan and Blair Paddock contributed to this report.


A Safer City is supported, in part, by the Sue Ling Gin Foundation Initiative for Reducing Violence in Chicago.