With no clear winner, Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn held a slim lead Wednesday evening over Republican State Senator Bill Brady, but absentee ballots, as well as votes from a few outstanding precincts, remain uncounted.
More than 50,000 ballots must still be counted to determine whether Quinn or Brady can declare victory. Most of the untallied ballots are absentee and military.
The latest numbers show Quinn leading Brady by more than 19,000 votes. But votes remained that couldn't be counted Tuesday night because of human error or mechanical failure.
"We put at least three pieces of equipment out in every precinct. Generally its at least two touch screens and a scanner. In bigger precincts we put out more. We wait until we have confirmation from each piece of equipment before we release the results from the precinct," said Noah Praetz, deputy director, Cook County elections.
There are thousands more absentee ballots that won't be tallied for days and won't be officially certified for weeks. For now, they are locked and under 24-hour police guard.
"We met last night with party officials, attorneys from both major campaigns so that are in a very tight race and they signed off on it, they agreed that it was a secure setting for those ballots to stay," said Jim Allen, Chicago Board of Elections.
In Chicago, there are 4,418 late arriving absentee ballots, about 650 more expected in the mail and 5,000 provisional ballots to be counted.
In suburban Cook County, there are thousands of additional absentee and provisional ballots in house or expected, putting ABC7's estimate of total outstanding votes at more than 25,000 - just in Chicago and the Cook County suburbs.
There could be thousands more absentee ballots to be counted downstate, including some late military ballots that Brady supporters figure may break their way.
Unless Pat Quinn breaks open an insurmountable lead, both sides will have to play by a calendar that allows for absentee votes to be counted until November 16th; counties to tabulate results until November 23rd; and the state election board doesn't have to officially certify the results until Friday, December 3rd.
But even that December date may not be the end of it. After the state certifies the results, one candidate or the other could take legal action challenging the state election board's numbers.
The inauguration is January 14, 2011.
Because Quinn's lead over Brady is slim, the votes could make a real difference in the governor's race.
"The Quinn people will be hoping that the numbers in Cook will outweigh the numbers downstate, and Brady will be hoping the opposite. So, the bottom line is, that's why it's going to take a while. And that's why Quinn believes he's got the lead and will win, and Brady believes the results will change, hoping he can gather more votes downstate," Cook County Clerk David Orr told ABC7 Chicago.
"There are probably, you know, 20,000, 25,000, 30,000 ballots outstanding statewide. And I think Quinn and Brady said all the votes are counted. We are here to make sure they are counted accurately and honestly," said Brien Sheahan, general counsel for the Illinois Republican Party.
Absentee ballots had to be mailed by Monday to count, but officials will accept them if they arrive by November 16.
Both gubernatorial candidates nervously watched the area returns slowly trickle in Tuesday night and early Wednesday. Brady watched with his family and supporters by his side in downstate Bloomington, while Quinn's team was hunkered down in a Loop hotel.
"The people have won and I believe we have won," said Quinn on Election Night. "We know there are more votes to be counted, but we know we are 10,933 votes ahead. And I'd rather be ahead than 10,933 behind."
Quinn joked that he was on his way to a "landslide" victory in his speech to supporters.
However, Bill Brady is no stranger to close elections. He won the Republican primary earlier this year by fewer than 200 votes. Because of the narrow victory, he had to wait a month after the February primary to be declared the winner.
"Some of you may have realized by now I have a penchant for close elections . It always seems to end up on the right side, but we want to thank you for being here tonight. Clearly, with over 3.5 million votes cast, this isn't going to be decided tonight," Brady told supporters late Tuesday.
Attorneys representing the candidates were dispatched to the Cook County Board of Elections, where ballots were being kept under lock-and-key, to look out for irregularities.
"Any time an election is this close, the party and candidates are going to be on top of the situation, and we're here to just make sure these votes are secure, that they don't wander off in the middle of the night," said Brien Sheahan of the general counsel for the Illinois GOP.
As it stands, the 1982 election for Illinois governor was closer, with Jim Thompson and Adlai Stevenson only 5,000 votes apart. Stevenson wanted a recount but was prevented by the state supreme court, which ruled the recount law unconstitutional. There is a new recount law in Illinois, but it has never been used. Ironically, 1982 was the year Pat Quinn was first elected to public office.
Downstate votes could help Brady bridge gap
While many of the tallies that came in early Tuesday night were from Democratic-heavy Cook County, results trickled in from traditional Republican stronghold DuPage County, leading Brady to close in on Quinn's lead in the middle of the race.
"Downstate comes in late," said Illinois GOP Chair Pat Brady. Pat Brady, who is not related to the candidate, was optimistic that the Republican would take the lead. "That's what happened in the primary. That's what happens in all these races... Bill's picking up 60% of the vote downstate so we feel confident that Bill will eventually come over the top."
Quinn's camp is watching what they're referring to as the "tsunami of the south" to see if they can hold their own.
"Everyone upstairs is optimistic. We're looking at the numbers and see we hit our projected targets or above in the city and the collar. So those collar county voters came out for the governor today. Everyone is cautiously optimistic but we're doing well," said the Quinn campaign communications director Tuesday. She said Quinn was with his family, watching the returns.
Quinn, Brady vote with families
While Quinn was seeking four more years in the governor's mansion, Brady and several other candidates hoped to move in.
Quinn, who got the job after Rod Blagojevich was indicted and impeached last year, faced Brady, independent Scott Lee Cohen, Green Party candidate Rich Whitney and Libertarian Lex Green at the polls.
All of the candidates for governor made the rounds Tuesday.
Quinn and his sons cast ballots at a polling place inside Galewood Community Church on the city's West Side at approximately 10 a.m.
"My two sons have been coming to this polling place with me since they were born. And it is important to vote for our future," said Quinn.
Quinn also took his 93-year-old mother to vote at her polling place in River Forest. The retired teacher took a photo of her late husband with her.
"I had to think about it, but I did. I certainly did. And it was with great pleasure," said Eileen Quinn about voting for her son.
"I hope everybody marches to the polls and votes their conscience and if they vote for Pat Quinn, they're going to win with Quinn," said Quinn.
Brady started the day in Chicago, where he attended Mass at Holy Name Cathedral before going to the polls with his wife and son in his hometown of Bloomington. Only after he started voting did the senator realize he was given two ballots. The local election judge joked, "You've got to give one back. This ain't Cook County."
In an election tradition, Brady and his wife split a double cheeseburger at a bar called Winner's in Bloomington.
"We are thankful. The people of Illinois have been very hospitable. They are looking forward to a change. We are thankful for all they have given us, the opportunity to visit and share ideas," Brady said.
In the meantime, independent candidate Scott Lee Cohen, who was pressured to drop out as the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee because of personal scandal, voted at Covenant Presbyterian Church on the city's Near North Side. His campaign had focused on creating jobs.
Quinn looks to Chicagoland, Brady elsewhere
Experts said the midterm election comes down to a simple numbers game focused on voter turnout and geography. High turnout in Chicagoland was equated with success for Quinn, while high turnout in the collar counties and downstate was seen as favorable toward Brady.
Throughout the day Tuesday, several Chicago phone banks called the home of presumed Democrats to get out the vote.
"I am a Chicago union member and we are calling to encourage them to get out and vote today," said phone bank worker Phyllis Holiday. "The election is very, very close and we can use all the help that we can get. And if they're uncertain we're offering rides and any type of support that we can give."
"They're encouraged that someone has called them and is asking them to get out to vote and exercise their franchise," said phone bank worker John O'Grady.
Brady hoped to ride a wave of support from a rejuvenated Republican Party.
"I hope to get a victory tonight, and then we can put this state on the right path. There are a lot of people in Illinois that are hurting, record unemployment, deficits and debt. Fixing it goes hand in glove," said Brady.
Brady has spent time, money, and energy outside of the immediate Chicago area. In 2006, Illinois voter turnout was:
Brady and his supporters expressed resentment toward Chicago's role in state politics on Tuesday.
"Let's face it - for the last eight years, by all appearances, the politicos in Chicago have been running the state into the ground," said Brady.
"Everything is done for Chicago. And [they] leave us out in the woods down here," said Normal, Ill., resident Don Withers.
As of Tuesday afternoon, turnout in heavily Republican Sangamon County, which includes the state capital of Springfield, was running exceptionally high for a midterm election, at between 60 and 65 percent.