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Thousands Of Mail-In Ballots Still Left To Be Counted Could Sway Close Aldermanic Races

Chicago had 86,725 outstanding mail-in ballots as of Wednesday. Only half are expected to be returned and tallied, but they could have a big impact on tight races.

Election judge Victor Ombalino demonstrates how to fill out a ballot at Hibbard Elementary School in Albany Park during the Primary Election on June 28, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Political candidates celebrated and grieved Tuesday as their races were decided after months of campaigning — but it could be days before Chicagoans have a complete picture of the winners.

Thousands of mail-in ballots are still being counted, which could be the deciding factor in races that are still too close to call, said Max Bever, spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

Chicago had 86,725 outstanding mail-in ballots as of Wednesday, according to the city’s election board.

Not all of those ballots will be mailed back in time or postmarked correctly, but Bever said the elections officials expect at least 50-52 percent — about 43,000-45,000 ballots — to be returned and counted over the next two weeks based on figures from the Feb. 28 election.

In that election, 52 percent of mail-in ballots were returned, Bever said.

Elections officials have until April 18 to count all of the mail-in ballots and declare all of the races complete.

Mail-in ballots had a big impact on tight races in the Feb. 28 election.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) avoided a runoff thanks solely to an influx of mail-in ballots. La Spata picked up just enough votes to win outright.

And a runoff between Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) and Megan Mathias was cemented as elections officials counted mail-in ballots in the weeks following the election.

Now, more races hang in the balance.

In the 48th Ward, which covers parts of the Far North Side, Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth secured 51.89 percent of the vote to Joe Dunne’s 48.11 percent Tuesday evening. The two were only separated by about 600 votes.

Manaa-Hoppenworth declared victory Tuesday, but the final results could come down to mail-in ballots. There are 2,788 unreturned mail-in ballots in the 48th Ward, according to elections officials.

Dunne hopes the ballots — however many of them are returned — will give him the edge he needs to top Manaa-Hoppenworth.

“It’s a close race and it’s not over. There are still 2,700 mail-in ballots to be counted before we know the outcome of the election,” Dunne said in a statement.

The 30th Ward on the Northwest Side is in a similar situation.

Ruth Cruz gave a victory speech Tuesday after securing 51.52 percent of the vote to Jessica Gutiérrez 48.48 percent. But with some number of the ward’s 1,536 unreturned mail-in ballots left to be counted, final results could shift.

In the 29th Ward on the West Side, incumbent Ald. Chris Taliaferro is clinging to a razor-thin margin.

Taliaferro had 51 percent of the vote Tuesday, compared to challenger CB Johnson’s 49 percent. They are separated by 186 votes, according to latest figures.

There are slightly fewer unreturned mail-in ballots in the 29th Ward — 1,118, according to elections officials — but Taliaferro said he’s confident the remaining tally will push him to victory.

“I believe we ran a campaign that I’m proud of and also we worked very hard, so I’m feeling optimistic about the results,” Taliaferro said.

In the 5th Ward, Desmon Yancy held 51.8 percent of the vote to Hone’s 48.2 percent, a margin of about 400 votes, according to unofficial results.

Hone is not conceding, as there are are 1,616 outstanding mail-in ballots for the 5th Ward — “I owe that to the people who supported me,” she said.

Voting by mail is becoming much more popular in Chicago, according to elections data.

Bever previously said the elections board sent out more than 210,000 vote-by-mail ballots this year — triple the amount it sent in 2019 during the last municipal election, and more than seven times the amount sent for the 2015 election.

People “like the time to be able to review their ballot at home,” Bever said. “This time around, we had people use our secure drop-boxes more than ever.”

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