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Counting all votes is not a “nightmare scenario”

Monday, Feb 25, 2019

* Lots of people love mail-in ballots. But as we all clearly saw last November, that means we won’t necessarily know all the results on election night. So, news outlets need to make sure they don’t repeat their mistakes from last fall and publicly declare winners before ascertaining whether tens of thousands of uncounted ballots could change the final scores

With 37,000 mail-in ballots not yet returned, Chicago election officials on Monday talked openly about a nightmare scenario that suddenly looks real: a mayoral election so close, it drags on for days and even includes a possible recount.

Election Board spokesman Jim Allen is not predicting that will happen. But he’s at least acknowledging that possibility with 63,000 mail-in ballots requested, only 26,000 returned, 1,000 not counted because of defects and a crowded field of 14 mayoral candidates that has left voters confused.

Mail-in ballots can be counted later, so long as they are postmarked on Tuesday — or even Wednesday, if they were mailed on election day.

If the margin separating the top few finishers is smaller than the number of outstanding ballots, we may not know until days or even weeks after Tuesday’s election which candidates will advance to the April 2 runoff.

Also, please stop calling it a “nightmare scenario.” It’s the legal voting process and it’s been around awhile now. I mean, remember the 2014 race when we didn’t know who the next state treasurer would be for a couple of weeks?

Instantaneous results are a fantasy of the media’s own construction.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

31 Comments
  1. - Grand Avenue - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 12:45 pm:

    We probably should increase the time between the first round and the runoff for future elections to account for the ever-increasing utilization of mail-in voting


  2. - Rich Miller - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 12:46 pm:

    ===probably should increase the time between===

    A sound idea and much better use of everyone’s time than simply screaming at the wind. Thank you.


  3. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 12:47 pm:

    That’s the kind of thing that’s made me stop reading either of the big Chicago papers.


  4. - Annonin' - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 12:51 pm:

    Probably a “nightmare” if you were locked into a notion that Billy Daley is in the runoff


  5. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 12:52 pm:

    It’s a Reign of Terror Nightmare Scenario lost in the Bermuda Triangle.


  6. - Norseman - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 12:54 pm:

    === Instantaneous results are a fantasy of the media’s own construction. ===

    Click, click, click. That’s me hitting the like button.

    P.S. Good one, Word.


  7. - God's Country - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 12:55 pm:

    It’s not just a Chicago issue, either. Several jurisdictions are holding primaries tomorrow, and have to turn around in 35 days for the April 2nd Consolidated Election. Moving that election to the first Monday in May would make life a lot easier for a lot of election authorities.


  8. - AKA22 - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 12:56 pm:

    Almost 4% of mail in ballots haven’t been counted? Scary not knowing if you really voted because of a percieved signature mismatch.


  9. - Huh? - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 1:00 pm:

    “Instantaneous results are a fantasy of the media’s own construction.”

    I’m disappointed. No election wins being called with 5% of the vote returns. /s


  10. - Just Observing - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 1:01 pm:

    === Almost 4% of mail in ballots haven’t been counted? Scary not knowing if you really voted because of a percieved signature mismatch. ===

    At least in Lake County, I believe, you can check online if you “voted” by mail.


  11. - Just Observing - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 1:02 pm:

    Plus, I’m sure, in the 19th century, voting took days to weeks to tabulate.


  12. - Tom - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 1:10 pm:

    The “nightmare scenario” is the vote being so close as to requirement a recount and then a lawsuit and having only 35 days before the April 2 election. It may not sound like plenty of time but remember early voting and vote by mail would have already started without the primary.


  13. - Fax Machine - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 1:11 pm:

    The Chicago main post office will postmark until 11:59 PM so people could wait until initial results are reported before they mark and send their ballot.

    That’s kind of weird.


  14. - Gooner - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 1:35 pm:

    Fax Machine, that’s actually an interesting strategy.
    Suppose an organization is strongly opposed to one candidate.
    They watch the results come in.
    If the person they oppose is in the top two, they send out an e-mail blast telling their supporters to mail in for whomever is in third place.

    A good organization — imageime some of the unions — could do that.

    Ah, strategy for 2023.


  15. - lakeside - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 1:38 pm:

    Agree with Grand Ave. Let the process take how long it takes, and set the runoff 6 weeks from the date the final tally is sorted out. This shouldn’t be a big deal. And is certainly not a “nightmare.”


  16. - pawn - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 1:49 pm:

    Good to change the narrative on this.


  17. - TopHatMonocle - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 1:49 pm:

    I look forward to being in the county building’s basement reviewing those 1,000 defective ballots in a few days.


  18. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 2:01 pm:

    I agree with Grand Ave. and Tom. If second place is close enough to warrant a recount or litigation, we could not know who qualifies for the runoff until after the runoff election date.


  19. - Hyperbolic Chamber - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 2:04 pm:

    Sure, “nightmare scenario” was probably not the best turn of phrase for the Board to use, but they were not talking about the mail-in ballots. They were talking about the likelihood that you’re going to able to throw a blanket over the vote counts of 3 to 5 candidates AND they have to turn around and start a run-off to be held in 5 weeks (as “Tom” said) without knowing who’s in it.

    It’s all well and good to prescribe how to address this problem in the future, but what are they to do here and now? Is the legislature going to step in and move the April election back? At this stage? Yes, the press (not to mention the candidates) will be swarming all over the CBOE for finality - and they will be powerless. Who in their right mind would want the inevitable comparisons to Florida (or Georgia), especially with all of the challenges Chicago/Illinois faces? That’s just common sense/human nature.

    The best thing the CBOE could do is tally the ballots received daily as a constant reminder that, ‘Hey, this isn’t our fault. We’re just playing the cards we were dealt face up.’


  20. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 2:15 pm:

    I for one really need a legitimate campaign for the runoff. It was hard to choose from this blanket ballot of candidates that often took very similar positions on issues. When it is down to two people, I think you will see a lot more contrast and conflict on the major issues. I think the runoff will be a much more significant chose than this election, and voters deserve a real campaign period to make that decision.


  21. - OneMan - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 2:15 pm:

    One of the impacts of the internet and election night is the expectation that elections are to be counted faster than ever before, yeah electronic voting makes the process faster but it is not an instant process nor should it be. It also feeds the idea that if anything is delayed it is because of shenanigans going on vs just the process taking time or actual issues that just show up in most elections.

    As for the “nightmare scenario” if it was down to 4 people or even 3 for a few days I am sure Chicago television stations wouldn’t mind.


  22. - The Bashful Raconteur - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 2:31 pm:

    “So, news outlets need to make sure they don’t repeat their mistakes from last fall..” What fun is that?


  23. - LXB - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 2:46 pm:

    Another good reason for instant runoff voting.


  24. - Practical Politics - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 2:46 pm:

    It is really time to change the date of the Chicago municipal elections. The February and April voting dates are historical relics from a time when there were two major party political machines in the city (the February date being for the party primaries, the April date for the general municipal elections), The election calendar was designed to suppress voter turn-out, so only the reliable party regulars would track to the polls in the awful winter weather.

    The February date ought to be ditched and moved up to mid-March. The finale could be held in late April or early May.


  25. - titan - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 3:00 pm:

    Wednesday postmarks are not good on VBM ballots:

    (10 ILCS 5/19-8) (from Ch. 46, par. 19-8)
    Sec. 19-8. Time and place of counting ballots.
    (c) Each vote by mail voter’s ballot that is mailed to an election authority and postmarked no later than election day, but that is received by the election authority after the polls close on election day and before the close of the period for counting provisional ballots cast at that election, shall be endorsed by the receiving authority with the day and hour of receipt and shall be counted at the central ballot counting location of the election authority during the period for counting provisional ballots.
    (e) Except as otherwise provided in this Section, vote by mail voters’ ballots and special write-in vote by mail voter’s blank ballots received by the election authority after the closing of the polls on an election day shall be endorsed by the election authority receiving them with the day and hour of receipt and shall be safely kept unopened by the election authority for the period of time required for the preservation of ballots used at the election, and shall then, without being opened, be destroyed in like manner as the used ballots of that election.


  26. - Humboldt - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 3:02 pm:

    the problem with Instant Runoff voting in this scenario would still be that the process cannot be started (eliminate last, recalc; rinse repeat) until all of the votes are counted, right? at least as I understand it?
    With so little presumably separating at least the bottom half of the candidates you’d have to wait until every ballot is in the system before you can begin the process accurately.


  27. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 3:29 pm:

    What Wordslinger said, plus, “It will have a CHILLING EFFECT….


  28. - muon - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 3:34 pm:

    Another problem with IRV, particularly with a large field of candidates, is that many early voters will have a strong sense of their favorite, but are less clear on who they would go with beyond their top choice. If it’s a ranked choice ballot the voters would have to have some idea about all the candidates before casting a ballot. Once the voter has a clear first choice, they may not want to spend the time to make a complete ranking. Filling out the rest of a ballot at random after making a first choice would not be a desired outcome either. A top two runoff simplifies the voter’s job to only consider at most two candidates beyond their first choice.

    I’ve seen studies that indicate if pairs of candidates are presented voters don’t always have consistent ranking. That is they may rank 3 candidates A>B>C, but rank pairs A>B, B>C, and C>A. This is more likely when none of those candidates are the voter’s first choice. The top two runoff eliminates that inconsistency and only considers the voter’s preference between a single pair.


  29. - LXB - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 3:52 pm:

    Sure, you’d have to have and count all the ballots, but you wouldn’t be doing it under the pressure of another election five weeks later that’s dependent on the results.


  30. - Been There - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 4:03 pm:

    I’m thinking he is saying it’s a nightmare for him because every media outlet (except CapFax) will be bugging him constantly to ask when all the votes will be counted.


  31. - revvedup - Monday, Feb 25, 19 @ 8:16 pm:

    It is certainly a nightmare for the CBOE if the vote count is significantly delayed by a mass of mail-in ballots, given the small window to handle any run-off election. There’s only so many hours in a day and staff to handle the job, only to have ANOTHER vote to tally days(?) later, far less if the original vote is delayed by challenges. I don’t envy the CBOE.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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