SPRINGFIELD – The race for state treasurer remains undecided nearly two weeks after Election Day, with both campaigns agreeing that fewer than 400 votes now separate the candidates in what could be the closest statewide race in Illinois in at least a century.
Election officials have until Tuesday to finish counting ballots in the race between Republican Tom Cross and Democrat Mike Frerichs. Cross's campaign has alleged that hundreds of voters in suburban Chicago voted twice, and questions about the process in Chicago prompted officials to acknowledge setting aside more than 500 ballots for possible court action.
But regardless of the outcome, the fight could be headed to a recount under a law that hasn't been tested since it was enacted three decades ago. Neither side was talking about recounts Monday, saying they're waiting for all the votes to be counted.
"Everyone knew that this was going to be a very close election. Mike's been coming from behind the whole time," said Frerichs's spokesman, Dave Clarkin. "Now we're all just doing whatever we can to monitor everything closely."
More than 3.4 million votes were cast in the race, but tens of thousands of ballots hadn't been counted by Election Day because they were mailed in or cast on a provision basis, meaning they needed to be checked to make sure voters were eligible. Local election officials will report their final results to the Illinois State Board of Elections, which will meet Nov. 30 to certify election results.
If the current split holds – Cross says he leads by 381 votes, while Frerichs says it's only 331 – the margin would obliterate the current record set in 1982, when GOP Gov. James Thompson defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson III by 5,074 votes, according to an Associated Press analysis of election records since 1900.
Cross, the former Illinois House Minority Leader from Oswego, and his campaign are questioning the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners about the number of mailed ballots it has received and how it has accounted for them.
The board released a letter late Friday rebutting a majority of the claims – but it did acknowledge that 99 mail-in ballots that were received too late to be counted were mingled with 459 legitimate ballots. All of those 558 ballots were separated for possible "postelection court proceedings."
"We're still evaluating ballots in the city of Chicago two weeks after the election," said the Republican's spokesman, Kevin Artl. "There's an indeterminate number of ballots to be counted in Chicago still."
Elsewhere in Cook County, home to several Chicago suburbs, the party cross-checked the names on 8,000 provisional ballots with voters who had returned absentee ballots. Campaign officials said they found about 250 ballots that were cast by people who voted more than once. The campaign has turned its research over to the office of Cook County Clerk David Orr.
State law doesn't allow for automatic recounts, but they can be requested by a voter or candidate who shows evidence of voting irregularities or mistakes to the Illinois Supreme Court. A $10,000 filing fee also is required, and a voter must collect thousands of signatures within a 15-day window after an election is certified. If the high court agrees to a recount, circuit courts in the affected jurisdiction have 150 days to oversee the new tally or other ordered actions, such as an examination of equipment.
That means the campaigns have found themselves in post-contest fundraising to ensure they keep volunteers, who are counting votes and fed with pizza and carryout chicken.
"If there's been anything that's been encouraging or exciting about the process," Artl said, "it's been the people who have stepped up and really made a difference."