Why Some Votes May Not Count In Chicago’s City Clerk Race

city clerk
Becky Vevea/WBEZ
city clerk
Becky Vevea/WBEZ

Why Some Votes May Not Count In Chicago’s City Clerk Race

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When Chicagoans head to the polls this month to pick new city leaders, some of their votes for city clerk may not count. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be wasted.

Chicagoans who vote early or get mail-in ballots ahead of the Feb. 26 election will see three names on the ballot for city clerk, which is the office that watches over official government records and also issues vehicle permits and business licenses.

That’s even though the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners made a ruling last month to remove two of the clerk candidates and leave only current Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia’s name on the ballot.

Why the ballot confusion? Valencia’s two challengers, Patricia Horton and Elizabeth “Betty” Arias-Ibarra, are still appealing that decision in Cook County Circuit Court, and election officials say they had to go ahead and print ballots even though the fight is still playing out.

“When that happens, we have to proceed and keep them as candidates and cannot remove them until or unless the decision is affirmed in the courts,” said Jim Allen, spokesman for the election board.

But unlike past cases where the off-again, on-again status of a candidate had the potential to affect a race’s outcome, “this is a rare case where no vote is wasted,” Allen said.

Here’s why.

Horton and Arias-Ibarra filed their court challenge together. This means that both are either going to stay on the ballot or both will be removed, Allen said.

“If they’re both off the ballot, then only the votes for the remaining candidate (Valencia) are going to be counted,” Allen explained. “If they’re both on, then we count all the votes for all candidates. It’s not anywhere near the hot mess that we saw (in the past).”

Either way, Allen said, there’s no scenario where someone who wanted to vote against the incumbent would be losing an opportunity to vote for an otherwise-viable challenger.

This is not the first time that names have been printed on the ballot despite uncertainty in the courts over whether a candidate ultimately belongs there.

Last year, the courts went back and forth over whether a third candidate for Cook County assessor, Andrea Raila, should be on the Democratic primary ballot. This created chaos for election officials and voters alike. Ultimately, Fritz Kaegi won the race, unseating incumbent Joe Berrios and easily winning November’s general election.

Allen said there is no plan to reprint ballots or send out notices to voters.

“We’re in the safest position letting the voters make their voice heard and then let the courts decide whether or not to count only the votes for one candidate or all the votes for all three candidates,” Allen said, noting that printing their names is required by law if an appeal is filed in court.

But Arias-Ibarra is still hopeful that she and Horton will end up in the race against Valencia until the end.

“We’re confident it’s going to be overturned,” she said. “We’re out there knocking doors, talking to people, I tell them not to be concerned that their vote will be counted.”

Arias-Ibarra said she wants to be a clerk “for the people” and is not part of the political machine.

“A lot of people in the city of Chicago don’t even know who Anna Valencia is … and obviously, she felt threatened if she was doing this,” Arias-Ibarra said, referring to Valencia’s efforts to knock her other candidates off the ballot. “Just let us run and let the citizens of Chicago make a decision.”

If all three names are on the ballot and incumbent Valencia doesn’t get 50 percent plus one of the vote, she could face a runoff in April.

“I truly believe in ballot access and the democratic process, but I also believe in the integrity of the ballot,” Valencia said in a statement from her campaign. “At the end of the day, both of my opponents didn’t meet the ballot requirements, including submitting fraudulent signatures. We all have to play by the same rules.”