Officials hope early voting sites opening in all 50 wards will boost low numbers
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What so far has been a slow early voting season will, some hope, get a breath of life as early voting sites open Monday in all 50 wards.
Only 1,762 votes had been cast as of Monday morning at the Loop Super Site — 175 W. Washington — which, since it opened Jan. 29, had been the sole location for early voting until Monday.
The number was underwhelming but not altogether surprising given several key factors, Chicago Board of Election Commissioners Chair Marisel Hernandez said at a Monday news conference in the Loop.
“I think it’s a combination of the weather the past week-and-a-half and the fact that voters are still trying to learn about the candidates and understand their positions,” she said, noting there are 14 candidates in the mayoral election alone.
Hernandez is confident that number will blossom in the days leading up to election day on Feb. 26.
Contests for mayor, city clerk, city treasurer and aldermen will be on the ballot.
“It’s a short ballot with a big impact for our city’s future,” she said.
In elections without a clear winner — one tallying 50-percent-plus-one-vote — the top two candidates head to an April 2 runoff election.
“My concern is there will be a razor-thin difference in votes between second and third place,” Hernandez said.
“If there is going to be two top vote-getters we want that to be clear and the voters to have their say,” she said. “Your vote matters now. Don’t put your vote off until the April 2 runoffs.”
One thing that could offer an election twist are the high number of mail-in ballots requested this year — more than 50,000 thus far. That’s more than any previous municipal election.
Those ballots can be mailed in as late as election day and there’s a two-week window following election day during which they can be counted.
“So in a tight election we may not know (results) on election night,” Hernandez said.
And there’s always the possibility ultra-tight races could result in an unprecedented recount.
“We haven’t had a recount in a municipal election and we’ve had some tight ones, that’s for sure,” Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen said Monday.
“Every election official around the country will tell you they don’t pray for who’s going to win, they just pray for distance between one and two — or in this case, two and three,” he said.
Hernandez hoped turnout would exceed the 42 percent in the 2011 election — the last time Chicagoans faced a mayoral contest with no incumbent.
“In the last 100 years there have been only four times when there wasn’t an incumbent mayor on the ballot. That was 1923, 1947, 2011 and now 2019,” she said.
Chicago has the best election turnout of any big city in the nation, she pointed out.
The highest-ever voter turnout in a municipal election — higher even than any presidential election — was 83 percent in 1983, when voters elected the city’s first black mayor, Harold Washington.