Early vote ballots for mayoral race may be delayed by petition challenges

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CHICAGO -- Early voting in the Chicago mayoral election is supposed to begin on January 17, but with so many petition challenges on the docket, the Chicago Board of Elections isn't sure ballots will be ready on time.

The board still needs to rule on nearly 200 objections filed against petitions mayoral candidates submit to get on the ballot. Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen said the large number of challenges and candidates "doesn't compare" to any other recent election.

"We're going to have at least a dozen candidates for mayor, a hotly contested race for city treasurer, for clerk, various contests for alderman up and down the ballot," Allen said.

A 2016 law requires ballots be ready 40 days before the February 26 municipal election, and if they're not ready in time, officials say they will have to turn voters away or have them apply to vote by mail. However, there is no penalty if jurisdictions miss the deadline. In Chicago, ballots were delayed before both the 2016 and 2018 primary elections.

This is the first municipal election in Chicago after the 40 day early voting law went into effect. Allen said backing up the official deadline for petition challenges isn't a realistic solution, and wouldn't be fair to candidates. Instead, he supports reverting to a 15 day deadline instead.

Either way, elections officials say 60 percent of early voters wait until the last week to cast their ballots, so they're not too concerned about discouraging voting.

"Losing some at the front end when there hasn't been any significant debates yet, we're not sure that's going to cause any harm," Allen said.

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