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Chicago appears to set voting record for low turnout

Voters from the 25th Ward in the voting booths at Ruiz Elementary School, 2410 S. Leavitt. | Rick Majewski/For the SunTimes

Despite a record field of 14 mayoral candidates, Chicago appeared to be on its way to setting a new record low in voting.

As of late Tuesday night, 521,265 votes — or 32.95 percent of the electorate out of 1.6 million registered voters — had been counted, including early votes and mail-in ballots that have arrived so far, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

This year’s turnout is slightly worse than the previous record, set in 2007 when just 33.08 percent of voters cast ballots in the contest that saw Mayor Richard M. Daley re-elected to his sixth term. That year 465,706 votes were cast out of 1.4 million registered voters.

Turnout could go up, though, after mail-in ballots are counted. This year, election officials received over 62,000 mail-in ballot applications, a record.

So long as vote by mail ballots are postmarked by Tuesday, they will count.

Those votes could take days or weeks to trickle in and be counted. The board, by law, will continue tallying votes until March 12 and will officially proclaim the victors on March 13 so that runoff ballots for the April runoff can be printed and touch screens programmed by March 18.

“What candidates do in terms of declaring victory or conceding is up to them,” board spokesman Jim Allen said. “We’re scheduled to count up to March 12, regardless of what candidates do or say.”

Recount litigation is not out of the question, but no lawsuits will keep the board from “proceeding with the election results we have in hand — we can’t hold off,” Allen said.

This is only the fourth Chicago mayoral election in a century without an incumbent seeking re-election.

The last one – in 2011 – saw Rahm Emanuel chosen to succeed retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley in a contest that brought out 42.3 percent of the electorate, according to election records.

The other two open races were in 1947 and 1923.

The 1923 contest went up for grabs when incumbent Republican Mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson opted to sit out after scandals made him too hot for the ballot box. The confidante of Al Capone would make a comeback four years later, but that’s another story.

Chicago began holding nonpartisan mayoral elections in 1999 — before that, party primaries were held.

A runoff has happened only once since then. That election – in 2015 between incumbent Mayor Emanuel and challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia – drew 41.10 percent of the voters.

The highest turnout for any Chicago mayoral race?

The modern record was set in 1983, when a whopping 82.07 percent of voters turned out to elect Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor over Republican Bernie Epton.

Contributing: Ariana Portalatin