Chicago: What to expect on election night
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot faces eight challengers in the city's elections on Tuesday, a tough reelection campaign for an incumbent who made history as the first Black woman and first openly gay person to serve in the role.
A former federal prosecutor who had never before run for political office, Lightfoot was something of a surprise winner four years ago, claiming an overwhelming victory in a runoff. Her four years in office have included issues with high crime rates and ongoing friction with the city's teachers union, and should she lose her bid to return to city hall, Lightfoot would become the first Chicago mayor in decades to run for reelection and fail.
With nine candidates in the race, it is unlikely that anyone will exceed the 50% threshold needed to win the officially nonpartisan election outright. That means the winner is likely to be decided in an April 4 runoff between the top two vote-getters.
Most observers peg the race as a four-person contest among Lightfoot, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.
Vallas, the only white candidate in the race, is positioning himself as a moderate, with backing from the Chicago police union. Garcia, the only Hispanic candidate, is focusing hard on Latino neighborhoods and Hispanic TV and radio. Johnson is an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union with a strong ground game made up of union volunteers.
Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:
Polls close at 8 p.m. ET.
HOW CHICAGO VOTES
Chicago holds nonpartisan jungle-style primaries that are open to all voters, who can register on election day. A candidate must win more than 50% of ballots cast to win outright. If no candidate does, the top two advance to a runoff election on April 4.
AP will declare winners in the race for Chicago mayor. AP will also tabulate an additional 57 races, for Chicago alderperson and police council, but will not call winners in those races. In the 2022 general election, AP first reported results in Chicago at 8:35 p.m. ET. The election night tabulation ended just before 1 a.m. ET, with 88% of votes counted.
The AP does not make projections and will only declare a winner when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap.
Should a candidate declare victory or offer a concession before the AP calls a race, we will cover newsworthy developments in our reporting. In doing so, we will make clear that AP has not yet declared a winner and explain why.
The AP may call a race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less, if we determine the lead is too large for a recount and legal challenge to change the outcome. In Illinois, there are no automatic recounts. Trailing candidates can request recounts if they receive at least 95% of the total votes of the winning candidate.
However, recounts in Illinois are for the purposes of legal discovery only and cannot by themselves change the results of an election.
Q: WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?
A: As of Jan. 1, 2023, there were 1.6 million registered voters in Chicago. As of Sunday, 207,940 voters had cast advance ballots.
In the 2022 primary election, 49% of Chicago voters cast their ballots before election day. Mail-in ballots can arrive as late as March 14 and be counted so long as they are postmarked by election day.
Election officials have said the number of mail ballots is up sharply from the last mayor’s race, in 2019, which could delay results.
Q: HOW LONG DOES COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?
A: Chicago counts a significant number of votes after election day, which could delay race calls in a competitive election. In the 2022 general election, the city counted 12% of votes after election day.
Election officials said they plan to start releasing citywide results shortly after polls close at 8 p.m. ET. However, they don’t expect to start releasing results by ward until around 1 a.m. ET.
Following election day, the Board of Elections plans to update results several times each day on Wednesday and Thursday, and then periodically through the March 14 deadline to receive mail ballots.
READ UP ON THE RACES
Here’s more on this year's Chicago elections:
— Chicago mayor’s race dominated by concerns about city crime
— She made history as Chicago mayor. Reelection may be harder
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