Eileen O’Neill Burke’s Lead Shrinks Sunday in Race to Replace Kim Foxx as Cook County’s Top Prosecutor

Eileen O’Neill Burke and Clayton Harris III are running for the Democratic nomination in the race for Cook County state’s attorney. (Photos provided)Eileen O’Neill Burke and Clayton Harris III are running for the Democratic nomination in the race for Cook County state’s attorney. (Photos provided)

The lead held by retired judge Eileen O’Neill Burke shrank Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the close Democratic race to replace Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, as Chicago election officials counted a total of 36,310 mail-in ballots under heightened scrutiny.

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O’Neill Burke now has a lead of 2,015 votes, according to the Associated Press tabulation as of Sunday evening. Since Tuesday, opponent Clayton Harris III has closed 80% of the gap that existed on election night, as election officials in Chicago and suburban Cook County counted ballots.

Five days after the March 19 election, the contest remained a long way from being settled, with 54,191 outstanding mail-in ballots from Chicago and an unknown number of suburban Cook County that will be counted as long as they were postmarked or dropped off on Election Day.

Neither candidate has conceded or declared victory, nor has the Associated Press called the race. More ballots are set to be counted Monday.

The race was jolted late Saturday by the news that there were approximately 9,100 more ballots cast by Chicagoans to count than elected officials had identified in statements to the news media on Friday, leading to unfounded charges of irregularities that both campaigns sought to reject.

Max Bever, a spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Elections, said he erred, but the ballots were always under the control of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, headquartered at 69 W. Washington St., and properly tracked.

“I traded speed for accuracy in reporting out numbers this week as quickly as I could,” Bever said. “I truly regret this error on my part and for the confusion that it has caused the voters of Chicago."

The ballots at the center of the controversy “were received back Monday, March 18, through Tuesday, March 19, were secured in a receiving cage at 69 W. Washington until they could be run through the Agilis scanning machine for purposes including verifying that those voters had not cast ballots during Early Voting or on Election Day, and to prepare signature specimens for verification. These ballots were inspected, processed and counted by election judges on Friday, March 22, through Saturday, March 23,” Bever said in a statement.

Unfounded claims of voter fraud were super charged by a post on X, the social media site once known as Twitter, by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward). Hopkins later deleted the post.

“After counting what was ostensibly the remaining mail-in ballots, Eileen O’Neill Burke maintains a lead of more than 4,000. BUT…election staff now say they have ‘found’ thousands of ballots with no postmarks, that were placed in dropboxes. They intend to count them tomorrow,” Hopkins posted.

Hopkins told WTTW News on Sunday he deleted that post after speaking with both the O’Neill Burke and Harris campaigns. Hopkins, one of the most conservative members of the City Council, backed O’Neill Burke.

“Both campaigns, and several independent observers I’ve talked to today, are confident in the integrity of both the mail-in and dropbox ballots that have been part of the ongoing count this week,” Hopkins said, echoing a post he made on X. “That’s good enough for me, which is why I corrected a tweet that hinted otherwise.”

Hopkins also responded to several people who amplified his post, including Dan Proft, a GOP operative, and claimed there had been fraud in the election.

“There is no evidence to support the claim that the chain of custody was compromised in any way,” Hopkins said. “The staff member who is responsible for calculating and communicating the number of ballots held for counting has acknowledged repeated errors and apologized.”

Hopkins told WTTW News his post was not responsible for questions about the accuracy and the vote count.

“I suggest that it’s not my since-corrected tweet, but rather the repeated errors in stating the estimated number of pending ballots, and miscommunication from Board of Elections staff as the primary cause of questions raised regarding the integrity of this process,” Hopkins said. “Present confusion aside, when this election is final and certified, the Board of Elections must address the problems in process management and communications to ensure this does not happen again.”

Foxx, who has served as state’s attorney since 2016, opted not to run for a third term, setting off a fierce contest for the Democratic nomination for state’s attorney.

O’Neill Burke — a former circuit and appellate level judge, who also served as both an assistant state’s attorney and defense attorney — is running as a tough-on-crime candidate, which she believes is a necessary response to Foxx’s emphasis on reforming the criminal justice system.

O’Neill Burke, of Edison Park, pledged to reduce the threshold for felony shoplifting prosecutions. Under Foxx, the value of stolen goods must be worth at least $1,000 or a defendant must have 10 prior convictions before that person can be charged with a shoplifting felony. O’Neill Burke said she’d lower that total to $300, as defined by state law.

Harris, an attorney and lecturer at the University of Chicago who lives in Washington Park, is the progressive pick in the race. He has received endorsements from the Cook County Democratic Party, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the Chicago Teachers Union.

He vowed to prioritize preventing violent crimes and to work with federal agencies to go after gun traffickers. He said he would create a new division within the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to focus on organized crime in order to prosecute those responsible for widespread carjackings and retail theft.

Unlike O’Neill Burke, Harris said he would maintain the current $1,000 threshold for felony retail theft prosecutions.

Despite their differences on retail theft prosecutions, the two candidates shared similar views on other issues, including supporting the elimination of cash bail and sharing a belief that the state’s attorney’s office must repair its relationship with law enforcement.

Both candidates also said police officers who are members of known hate or extremist groups or who have faced numerous misconduct charges should be barred from testifying in criminal cases.

The winner of the Democratic contest will face Republican former Ald. Bob Fioretti and Libertarian Party candidate Andrew Charles Kopinski in November’s general election.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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