SPRINGFIELD — The race for state treasurer remains undecided nearly two weeks after Election Day, with both campaigns agreeing fewer than 400 votes now separate the candidates in what could be the closest statewide race in Illinois in at least a century. It also may lead to the first recount request in three decades.The remarkably slim margin seems to point to a recount under an untested law put in place after the previously close-contest champ, the 1982 battle for governor. The match is rife with charges of “voting irregularities and ballot mishandling” in Chicago, prompting Illinois’ Republican U.S. senator call for an investigation Monday.
Election officials have until Tuesday to finish counting ballots from the Nov. 4 election, including in the treasurer’s race between Republican Tom Cross and Democrat Mike Frerichs. 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 Dave Clarkin, spokesman for Frerichs, a state senator from Champaign. “Now we’re all just doing whatever we can to monitor everything closely.”
More than 3.4 million votes were cast, but tens of thousands of ballots hadn’t been counted by Election Day because they were mailed in or cast on a provisional 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 331 — the margin would obliterate the record set 32 years ago when two-term GOP Gov. James Thompson defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson III by 5,074 votes, according to an Associated Press analysis of election records since 1900.
A look at the state’s top 10 closest political races since 1900:
- 1982 — Two-term GOP Gov. James Thompson defeats former U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III by 5,074 votes, or 0.14 percentage points.
- 1952 — Secretary of State: Republican Charles Carpentier defeats Edward Barrett by 9,303 votes, or 0.212 percentage points.
- 1954 — Treasurer: Republican Warren Wright defeats Democrat David Mallett by 8,941 votes, or 0.273 percentage points.
- 1944 — Treasurer: Republican Conrad Becker defeats Earl Merritt by 15,110 votes, or 0.391 percentage points.
- 1940 — U.S. Senate: Republican C. Wayland Brooks defeats Democrat James Slattery by 20,827 votes, or 0.510 percentage points.
- 1944 — Lieutenant Governor: Republican Hugh Cross defeats Democrat Edward Hunter by 31,738 votes, or 0.817 percentage points.
- 2010 — Governor: Democrat Pat Quinn defeats Republican Bill Brady by 31,834 votes, or 0.853 percentage points.
- 1956 — Governor: Republican William Stratton defeats Democrat Richard Austin by 36,877 votes, or 0.855 percentage points.
- 1962 — Superintendent of Public Instruction: Republican Ray Page defeats Democrat George Wilkins by 33,913 votes, or 0.944 percentage points.
- 1940 — Auditor: Republican Arthur Lueder defeats Democrat John Martin by 39,205 votes, or 0.973 percentage points.
- Source: Illinois Secretary of State’s Office, Illinois State Board of Elections
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, including its accounting for 4,600 absentee ballots and a claim that 1,406 previously unknown mail-in ballots were discovered in a closet. But the board acknowledged that 99 mail-in ballots that were received too late were inadvertently mingled with 459 legitimate ballots. Those 558 ballots were separated for possible “postelection court proceedings” under an agreement with election judges of both parties, board spokesman Jim Allen said.
The complaints by Cross’ lawyer William Quinlan prompted U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk to ask U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon to “secure” questioned ballots and “establish the chain of custody.”
“Our home city of Chicago has an unfortunate reputation for voter fraud and producing bogus election results,” Kirk wrote in the letter obtained by the AP. Voters “find the alleged behavior repulsive and they demand a change.”
Allen responded by re-releasing the board’s Friday response to Quinlan and adding, “There are contents of that original letter drafted by Mr. Quinlan that are clearly uninformed, misguided, inaccurate, and absolutely reckless with the truth.”
In Cook County suburbs outside Chicago, the GOP 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 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 irregularities or mistakes to the Illinois Supreme Court. A $10,000 filing fee 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.
The uncertainty means the campaigns have found themselves conducting post-contest fundraising to ensure they keep volunteers, who are counting votes, fed with pizza and carry-out chicken.
“If there’s been anything that’s been encouraging or exciting about the process,” Cross spokesman Kevin Artl said, “it’s been the people who have stepped up and really made a difference.”
JOHN O’CONNOR, AP Political Writer