CHICAGO - Chicago's election commissioners voted Thursday to keep Rahm Emanuel on the Feb. 22 Chicago mayoral ballot.

The 3-0 vote came hours after a hearing officer recommended that the former White House chief of staff can remain in the mayor's race because he meets the city residency requirement.

"For me, it was not a difficult case to decide," said Richard Cowen, the lone Republican commissioner.

The election board, however, may not have the final say on the issue. The losing objectors have a week to appeal the board's decision to the Cook County Circuit Court. The case could wind its way through the court system, including the Illinois Court of Appeals and the Illinois Supreme Court, for weeks.

"My goal is to get this through the courts as soon as possible," said Burt Odelson, lead attorney for the objectors.

Emanuel attorney Kevin Forde said even "Joe Blow" would have won the case with the same facts. He said there was "plenty of authority on the subject" that if somebody temporarily leaves a permanent residence with the intent to return, that person remains a resident.

Hearing officer Joseph Morris wrote that "it has not been established that the candidate, a resident of Chicago, abandoned his status as such a resident."

During the hearing, Odelson said Emanuel's actions on residency - including applying for a homeowner's exemption, and amending his 2009 tax returns to declare he was an Illinois resident - each came after Mayor Richard Daley announced he would not seek reelection. He said Emanuel's moves were "self-serving action(s) taken to bolster his residency."

The at times strange hearing explored the contents of the basement of Emanuel's home where he said he left prized family possessions, including his wife's wedding dress - further proof, his attorneys argued, he always intended to return to Chicago.

A former congressman from Chicago's North Side, Emanuel said he only moved his family to Washington to be President Obama's chief of staff. Emanuel's wife and the couple's three children will remain in Washington until the end of the school year.

Objectors contended he was not a Chicago resident partly because he rented out his house when his family joined him in Washington.

Emanuel said he leased his home for security reasons. He tried to move back into it when he returned to Chicago, but the family renting it wanted $100,000 to break the lease and move out early.