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An early voter drops their Chicago election mail-in ballot in the secured drop box at the Lincoln Park Branch Library on the North Side, Feb. 13, 2023.

Ashlee Rezin

Local election officials hope to report aggregate vote totals this November

The Chicago Board of Elections knows it has work to do before the general election in November.

“It certainly doesn’t feel like a long way from November … but a lot of work needs to be done throughout this summer,” said Max Bever, the director of public information for the Chicago Board of Elections.

That work includes improving how they release updated vote totals, especially in county wide races.

Election officials in Chicago and Cook County are exploring how they can work together to report their aggregate ballot numbers in the days after Election Day following widespread confusion among voters in March’s primary election.

The tight race for the Democratic Cook County State’s Attorney nomination saw mail-in, provisional and military ballots trickle in up to two weeks after primary Election Day, with Eileen O’Neill Burke winning by just over 1,500 votes.

But with each passing day, voters expressed confusion, as two different sets of ballot numbers were being sent out: one by Chicago, and one by Cook County.

That’s because the Chicago Board of Elections and Cook County Clerk’s Office are two separate entities. The Chicago board tabulates ballots from voters living in the city, while the county clerk’s office counts the votes coming from constituents living in suburban Cook County.

Since the two agencies operate independently, each one reports its own unofficial vote totals and number of ballots left to be counted each day after the election. The system forces voters to add the numbers together to get the full picture.

Without that full picture, misinformation spread on social media about voter fraud in the State’s Attorney race.

“We can only anticipate that the rhetoric is going to ramp up for November,” said Edmund Michalowski, the deputy clerk of elections for Cook County. “And when possible, we need to communicate with Chicago to make sure that we’re on the same page.”

That’s why Michalowski plans to work with the Chicago Board of Elections in November when reporting the numbers for county races.

“Internally, the [feeling] is that it’s really ridiculous that a voter could turn on [WBEZ], or look in the Sun-Times to get an aggregate number [of] votes for a county wide election, but they can’t go to the Cook County Clerk’s website or Chicago’s website to obtain the same information,” Michalowski said.

Michalowski said the two agencies will spend the coming months working out the logistics of reporting the numbers together.

“We don’t do things in lockstep, we have different processes, we have different equipment with different technology that we use,” Michalowski said. “And so we are going to be working with Chicago to have unofficial results sort of jointly produced from election night on, and we hope to have that active for the November election coming up.”

Bever said ideally the two sides could work out a system where the city numbers and aggregate numbers would appear side-by-side on the Chicago Board of Elections’ website. At minimum, Bever plans to add a link on the city board’s site that redirects to the county numbers.

Michalowski said the county is still in the process of figuring out what it could look like on their website, but both sides are particularly motivated to make it happen to prevent more misinformation from spreading come November.

Bever said the confusion over the Democratic State’s Attorney’s race serves as a reminder for the Chicago Board of Elections to always strive to better communicate with voters.

“We must immediately keep looking toward the future, keep preparing for the next election and keep preparing for the next ballot,” Bever said.

Noah Jennings is a freelancer for WBEZ.

The Democracy Solutions Project,” is a collaboration among WBEZ, the Chicago Sun-Times and the University of Chicago’s Center for Effective Government, with funding support from the Pulitzer Center. Our goal is to help our community of listeners and readers engage with the democratic functions in their lives and cast an informed ballot in the November 2024 election.

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