Illinois Supreme Court Justice P. Scott Neville | Illinoiscourts.gov
Illinois’ only African American state Supreme Court justice appeared poised to claim a win in the race to land a 10-year term on the state’s high court.
With most of the vote counted, Democratic voters in Cook County were handing Justice P. Scott Neville Jr. a victory amid a crowded field, and amid low voter turnout, in the race for the Democratic Party’s nod to permanently fill the seat to which Neville had been appointed two years ago.
According to unofficial election results, Neville was edging out his closest competitor, Illinois First District Appellate Justice Jesse Reyes. In results posted as of midday Wednesday, with nearly 99% of precincts tallied in suburban Cook County and 97% of precincts in Chicago, Neville had 182,553 votes to Reyes' 149,966.
Reyes would stand to be Illinois’ first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, if he had prevailed.
Among other candidates in the race, Illinois First District Appellate Justice Sheldon "Shelly" Harris was third, with 112,245 votes. He was followed by fellow First District Justice Cynthia Y. Cobbs, with 90,943 votes; Appellate Justice Margaret Stanton McBride, with 89,605 votes; Evanston attorney Daniel Epstein, with 58,037; and Appellate Justice Nathaniel Howse, with 36,051.
As of the evening of Wednesday, March 18, not all votes had yet been counted or reported in portions of the city of Chicago and suburban Cook County, according to unofficial results posted by the Chicago Board of Elections and the Cook County Clerk.
According to unofficial vote totals, only about 30% of registered voters in Cook County cast ballots in the primary vote. Further, elections officials reported they were still counting tens of thousands of mail-in ballots and other ballots not cast on Election Day, which could change the unofficial apparent results in some of the contests.
Republicans did not field a candidate for the Supreme Court seat in the First Supreme Court District, which is limited in its entirety to the Democratic Party stronghold of Cook County.
The Cook County Democratic Party had officially backed Neville for the seat.
Neville had been appointed to the seat in 2018 by the justices of the state high court, after former Justice Charles E. Freeman, the state’s first African American Supreme Court justice, had retired. Freeman had served on the court for 27 years, and had also become the first African American to take a turn as the state’s chief justice.
Freeman died earlier this year at the age of 86.
As the votes were tallied on Tuesday night, Neville and Reyes had seesawed back and forth throughout the night, before Neville opened up his late lead.
The election was marred by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. As Gov. JB Pritzker has moved to mitigate the spread of the disease by using emergency powers to limit gatherings to no more than 50 and close bars, theaters, restaurant dining areas and other businesses and organizations, many had increasingly urged him to ask the Illinois General Assembly to postpone the election.
Pritzker, however, declined to do so, saying his hands were tied by the Illinois state constitution and there was no better date in the future to which to postpone the election.
On Election Night, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, released a statement saying: “We pulled together and found ways to hold one of the most important elections in our nation’s history in a safe and secure way. Even in these uncertain times, we reminded the nation that you can count on Illinois – a state that represents what America looks like – to deliver on making critical changes for our country. Tonight, we are one step closer to electing a Democrat for President.”
Largely as a result of COVID-19, turnout was down sharply in Chicago and Cook County, particularly when compared to the last primary vote during a presidential election year in 2016.
According to data from the Cook County Clerk’s office, more than 1.5 million ballots were cast in Chicago and suburban Cook County in March 2016.
This year, the totals were only 61% of that, with just about 915,000 ballots cast, representing about 30% of all registered voters in Chicago and suburban Cook County.