Aldermanic candidate CB Johnson (left) and Congressman Danny Davis stand outside the city election offices Sunday. | AustinTalks

Incumbent Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) is poised to go into a runoff against activist and former supporter C.B. Johnson after the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners counted the write-in votes, shrinking his lead.

In order to avoid the runoff, one of the candidates must earn at least one more vote than 50% of all votes cast.  While Taliaferro was above that threshold on Election Day, mail-in ballots and write-in votes that have been counted since then reduced his vote share. With the total of 9,782 votes in as of this issue’s print deadline, the incumbent would need to earn 4,892 votes to avoid the runoff – and, at 4,868 votes, he is currently 24 votes short.  Board of Elections spokesperson Max Bever said told Austin Weekly News that the final results won’t be declared until March 15 because they will need to count all the mail-in ballots postmarked on Feb. 28 that arrive on March 14 – but he didn’t expect those straggler ballots to make much difference. 

Meanwhile, the race for the third seat on 15th Police District Council is now undecided. While resident Darius Newsome originally had the third-highest number of votes, with Carmalita Earls coming in a close fourth, the difference between them shrank until they were tied at 2,244 votes on March 10. Neither got any more votes since then. Bever said he was looking into what would happen if the two candidates remain tied, but he didn’t have the answer by deadline. 

Voters can already submit applications for mail-in ballots. The runoff election is on April 4.

On Election Day, Taliaferro earned 50.51% of the vote while Johnson earned 40.45%. The third candidate on the ballot, Corey Dooley-Johnson, earned 8.95%. The mail-in ballots brought in more votes for all three candidates, but the cumulative effect of it was that Taliaferro’s lead gradually decreased. 

Two people mounted write-in campaigns for 29th ward — 29th Ward Republican committeeman Walter Adamczyk, who withdrew from the race after his nominating petitions were challenged, and faith leader Lisa Brown Newman.  Brown Newman’s campaigned more visibly, putting up campaign signs and taking part in candidate forums. 

On March 8, Johnson’s campaign issued a press release stating that it was their understanding that Brown Newman got “well over 139 write-in votes,” which they believed was enough to push the race into runoff territory.  On the morning of March 12, he and Cong. Danny Davis (D-7) who endorsed Johnson, held a press conference at the Board of Elections offices, urging them to declare the results as soon as possible. 

“We are 14 days into a runoff, and we have not had any kind of information, so we don’t know which way to go,” said Johnson, as he stood outside of the city election office at 69 W. Washington St., Congressman Davis at his side.

“We are urging the board to hurry up and give us a clear answer, so that the voters can know that they have the opportunity to vote again,” Davis said.

The Board of Elections released the write-in totals later that day.  Adamczyk got a mere six votes, while Brown Newman got 106 – but that still meant that the candidates on the ballot now had smaller shares of the vote.  

As of March 12, there were 634 outstanding mail-in vote ballots in the 29th Ward.  Bever previously told Austin Weekly News that he expects that some of those ballots won’t be returned. On March 12, he said that he didn’t expect to get many ballots on March 13 and 14.

“We still have to wait until March 14th to accept all late arriving but properly postmarked Vote By Mail ballots, though we don’t expect more than a handful coming back on Monday and Tuesday, and they will be processed and counted as soon as they arrive,” Bever said.

Taliaferro said he doesn’t expect the remaining vote to make much difference.

“Of course, it’s no position any alderman wants to be in, but I look forward to running a strong runoff campaign to continue representing the 29th ward,” he said.

During Sunday’s press conference, Johnson expressed frustration with how long it took to tally up the ballots.

“Voters are calling me every day. They are very concerned what’s going on, what’s the process, what’s happening, and I can’t tell them because I don’t know,” said Johnson,

He said that, if he were elected alderman next month, he would fight for a change in election voting to a ranking system to avoid runoffs in the future.

“Democracy in action is when the citizens have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” Johnson said. “To vote is your voice. Your voice is your vote.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...