Harris edges closer to O’Neill Burke as state’s attorney counting deadline nears

Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

Clayton Harris III gained a bit of ground on Eileen O’Neill Burke in the Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney on Thursday — but not enough to narrow her already slim lead all that much.

After the latest tabulations of mail-in ballots by city and suburban election officials, O’Neill Burke leads Harris by 1,623 votes. That represents a slight dip from Wednesday, when O’Neill Burke added to her lead ever so slightly and the two were separated by 1,637 votes.

Based on the unofficial results, O’Neill Burke leads Harris 50.15% to 49.85%, a margin that changed only by hundredths of a percentage point since Wednesday.

The mail ballots trickling in since election day on March 19 have brought Harris, a university lecturer, within striking distance of O’Neill Burke, a retired appellate court justice, but the April 2 deadline to certify a winner is now days away.

And the daily changes are growing smaller. Harris had a net gain of just 16 votes in his city total on Thursday, while O’Neill Burke’s net gain in the suburbs was just two votes.

City and suburban election officials have said they plan to keep counting mail-in ballots until the Tuesday deadline as long as they were postmarked no later than March 19.

Harris’ team has said it’s prepared for a range of outcomes in the contest, including a potential recount, and stressed the importance of waiting until “every vote is counted” through next Tuesday.

The O’Neill Burke campaign has similarly said it is prepared for “any next step” in the process, without tipping their hand at what that might look like.

Neither candidate has declared victory, nor conceded defeat.

Meanwhile the number of ballots being reported by election officials in the city and suburbs continues to shrink.

On Thursday the Cook County clerk’s office said it tallied 12 mail-in ballots, while the Chicago Board of Elections began processing provisional ballots and added 615 votes to the unofficial results.

Provisional ballots are those cast when a voter’s registration information is not available when they show up to vote, or their eligibility is otherwise in doubt. Provisional ballots are only counted if the voter’s eligibility is eventually verified.

City officials said they will continue to process provisional ballots on Friday.

In addition to the slow narrowing of the margin between the two Democrats, the counting has been hit by a few gaffes by election officials.

A Chicago Board of Election Commissioners staff member initially logged the incorrect number of provisional ballots received on election day, reporting 2,882 ballots instead of 1,882, officials said Monday. Staff performed a hand count and determined there were 1,991 provisional ballots from election day and early voting.

The city board also added roughly 10,000 votes to the unofficial tally on Saturday, saying that the mail ballots received the day before the primary had mistakenly been left uncounted.

On Thursday, city election officials said there are 53,160 outstanding mail-in ballots that have not been returned. But they don’t expect that all of those were completed and properly postmarked by March 19.

O’Neill Burke and Harris are vying to succeed Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who opted not to seek a third term.

Whoever wins the primary will face Republican former Ald. Bob Fioretti and Libertarian Andrew Charles Kopinski in November.

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