Chicago Election: Final Runoff Ballots to Be Counted, With 2 Aldermanic Races Still Close

As a precautionary measure, all four candidates in the two races filed to contest the election results in court if necessary

Chicago election officials were scheduled Tuesday to conduct the final count of mail-in ballots from the city's municipal runoff elections held on April 2.

Two aldermanic races remained separated by just a few votes heading into the final day of counting, according to unofficial results from the Chicago Board of Elections.

In the Northwest Side 33rd Ward, challenger Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez received 5,753 votes, giving her a 13-vote lead over incumbent Ald. Deb Mell, who had 5,740 votes.

In the 46th Ward on the city's North Side, Ald. James Cappleman had 7,079 votes - 30 more than his opponent Marianne Lalonde, who had 7,049.

As a precautionary measure, all four candidates in the two races filed to contest the election results in court if necessary by the April 8 deadline, before knowing whether they would win or lose as ballots continued to arrive, Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen said.

William Calloway, who ran against 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston, also filed for a recount as a precautionary measure, according to Allen, though Hairston - who led by 175 votes - did not.

All mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day on April 2 and received before Tuesday would be counted, election officials said, but any arriving after Tuesday would not. The number of ballots continuing to roll in was dwindling, Allen said, with just six ballots from across the entire city arriving in the mail Monday.

Election officials said 85.2 percent of all vote by mail ballots were accounted for by Tuesday, above the return rate of 80 percent, which is considered normal.

Allen said there was no official threshold for candidates to ask for a discovery recount, which is what he called a "nearly-free peek" to examine the ballots in up to 25 percent of the ward's precincts - but he said they do have to show a path to victory, broadly outlining why they believe the results should be contested, in order to move forward.

A judge presides over all the proceedings of a recount, authorities said, deciding what, if anything, can continue. Some actions a judge might order in a recount include the review of all applications for a ballot, running all ballots through a new set of scanners, checking paper tapes from touch screens and more - all in front of both candidates and likely the media.

However, election officials said the rate of success for recounts has greatly diminished thanks to improvements in technology of voting equipment.

"It used to be that you could get an entire precinct thrown out if an election judge didn't initial the ballots," Allen said, noting that paper readers now immediately return ballots that haven't been signed by a judge, and that signatures pop up automatically in touch screen voting booths.

Allen added that without hanging chads, there are fewer disputes over a voter's "intent" and that a vote margin likely had to be "within a handful" to be able to pursue a recount at all.

Election results for all the municipal races will be made official when the Chicago Board of Elections meets Thursday afternoon to approve, adopt and issue a proclamation of the results.

Rodriguez Sanchez's lead over Mell has tightened since Election Day, and if she holds on to win, it would mark the end of a formidable political dynasty in Chicago.

In 2013, then-state Rep. Deb Mell was appointed to the seat long held by her father Dick Mell, who was once the Northwest Side kingmaker as 33rd Ward alderman beginning in 1975, the ward’s Democratic committeeman starting the following year and the father-in-law of disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Deb Mell ran for the first time in 2015 to defend her appointment, avoiding a runoff election by 17 votes thanks to absentee ballots counted after Election Day.

In the 46th Ward, Cappleman appeared poised to win a third term over Lalonde, a scientific research consultant running to his left.

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