Mollie Gloss cast her first ballot in 2008 — for Barack Obama. In 2016, she voted for Hillary Clinton.
“I’ve always been politically minded. I was your standard Democrat,” says Gloss, who lives in Wicker Park.
But the 28-year-old makeup artist never used to pay much attention to local races. She sat out the midterm elections in 2010 and 2014 and skipped Chicago’s mayoral race a year after that.
“I didn’t feel like a true Chicagoan yet,” says Gloss, who moved to Chicago from Minneapolis in late 2012.
But Tuesday, she was one of what the Chicago Board of Elections estimates were 162,000 people in Chicago between 25 and 34 who voted in this year’s midterm election, accounting for nearly one-in-five voters citywide — the biggest share of the vote for any age group.
Gloss went for well-known Democrats at the top of the ticket. But she says she knew her vote mattered most in down-ballot elections, especially for Cook County judges seeking retention.
“I used to look at judges on the ballot and didn’t really care,” she says. “This year was the first time I really paid attention to the judicial elections. I knew it would have the biggest direct effect on the people’s lives here in Chicago, [especially] brown and black folks.”
She credits her awareness to a link she came across for “Girl I Guess: Steph & El’s Progressive Voter Guide to the Cook County General Election 2018” on the private Facebook group Brown and Black Babes Chicago.
The guide, authored by journalist Ellen Mayer and Stephanie Skora, an organizer with the Trans Liberation Collective and the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, is a 22-page deep-dive on every Cook County race and referendum that’s clear about its purpose: “We are Jewish, queer, nerdy and dedicated to helping members of our community navigate a confusing ballot and identify the most progressive candidates.”
Girl I Guess — a play on the Twitter hashtag #GirlIGuessImWithHer started by young women of color after Clinton won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 — has been shared often on social media platforms and gotten over 100,000 views in a year that saw higher voter turnout in Chicago, 57 percent, than the city has had for any midterm election since 1986.
Gloss says she voted against all eight Cook County judges Girl I Guess urged be voted out of office, taking her phone to the voting booth to make sure she got the names right.
“The poll workers got mad at me because I requested so many new ballots because I kept screwing up with the judges’ names,” she says. “I wanted to get it right.”
One of those judges, Matthew Coghlan, failed to get enough votes to retain his seat and was voted out — the first time that’s happened in Cook County since 1990.
Criminal justice activists campaigned against Coghlan, who was the subject of a series of reports by Injustice Watch, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit journalism organization that found he routinely issued harsh sentences against black men convicted for possessing marijuana and often meted out lenient sentences to police officers convicted of violent crimes. A former Cook County prosecutor, Coghlan is being sued by two men who spent 25 years in prison before being exonerated and say Coghlan helped disgraced former Chicago police Detective Reynaldo Guevara frame them for murder.
In a rare move, the Cook County Democratic Party also ended up campaigning against Coghlan.
Alex Fryer, a 26-year-old Chicana studying public policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says Girl I Guess deserves some of the credit for putting the usually low-key races for judge on the radar of more people.
“Our last class Tuesday, before we were let out early to go vote, I saw a group of Latinas from my class circled around their cell phones, sharing and talking about the guide before they headed out to the polls,” Fryer says.
She took screenshots of the guide and posted them on Instagram, urging others to take it with them to vote. One of the screenshots was of the part on judicial elections, which Fryer says was the “part of the guide that I found most useful.”
“As a woman of color, I am concerned with criminal justice reform,” says Fryer. “Girl I Guess made it easier for other young people of color who share similar concern.”
She says dozens of people thanked her for sharing the voting guide.
Skora says she wasn’t surprised the light tone of her voting guide went over well.
“Ellen and I are friends and kind of goofy, and we’re both so sick of politicians taking themselves too seriously,” she says.
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.