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Mitchell: Time to voice your choice in Chicago’s mayoral election

Just as I was about to nag you about getting to the polls, I realized there’s no point in pleading with people to do their civic duty.

After all, people who want to vote can vote.

OPINION

We used to have to wait until Election Day to cast ballots, but now early voting is a trend.

Still, when you look at the number of people who actually vote in an election, it seems pretty clear that people are opting out of the process.

For instance, in the February election, only 34 percent of registered voters bothered to cast ballots. That’s only 483,700 of 1,421,430 registered voters.

For all the talk about this runoff election being historic, the proof is going to be in the hard numbers.

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Today, there are no 1 percenters or 99 percenters. Voting puts us on an equal footing. A rich man may be able to pour money into his candidate’s campaign, but he gets the same single ballot that a poor man gets.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel spent millions on commercials slamming his opponent, but it won’t be his treasure chest that will make the difference.

It will be the voters.

And while Jesus “Chuy” Garcia has likened his campaign to the coalition that swept the late Harold Washington into City Hall, that question can’t be answered until after the polls close.

After all, when Washington ran against Bernie Epton, 82 percent of voters cast ballots.

Last year, Los Angeles toyed with the idea of paying people to vote after its mayoral election drew the fewest voters in 100 years.

The notion of paying voters didn’t pop out of nowhere.

In 2013, a study conducted by Fordham University Professor Costas Panagopoulos, and published in the “Journal of Politics,” found that paying nonvoters actually worked.

The study looked at the 2010 municipal election in Lancaster, California, when only 14.9 percent of the control group voted. That number increased commensurate with the amount of cash offered. “The number only increased to 15 percent for those who received $2 by mail, but went up to 17.6 percent for $10 and 19.2 percent for $25,” the Washington Post reported.

Despite embarrassing voter turnouts, Illinois isn’t ready to incentivize voting.

Right before the gubernatorial election, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) landed in hot water when she offered raffle tickets to people who voted.

In Illinois, offering anything of value for voting is improper.

Hairston hastily withdrew her offer, but defended her intentions. “We’re always trying to boost turnout,” she said.

Frankly, paying voters puts civic engagement on the level of loyalty rewards.

And for the young people, who don’t believe voting is as critical today as it was during the civil rights era, consider Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson today is Selma yesterday.

Last month, a Department of Justice report accused the police of targeting African-Americans for traffic stops and arrests and using the fines to balance the city’s budget.

One of the surprising acts that emerged from the violent protests over the police-involved shooting of Michael Brown was the exclusion of blacks in local government. Although two-thirds of city’s population is black, the mayor and five of the six city councilmen are white.

Yet, civil rights groups have had to go door-to-door trying to boost voter turnout.

There’s no excuse for apathy.

Women had to endure for the right to vote.

Immigrants fled their homelands.

African-Americans and their allies died for the right to have a voice in how their government functions.

The candidates have spoken.

Now it’s your turn.

Don’t squander it.