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Early voting surges in mayor’s race. Is it high interest or spring break planning?

More than 21,000 people have already cast early ballots in the mayoral and aldermanic races in Chicago — nearly twice as many as the same period just one month ago.

Unofficial totals show 21,012 people voted in the first two days of early voting in the city’s municipal elections, compared with 11,638 for the first two days of early voting in the Feb. 24 first round.

And with nine days still to go before the April 7 runoff,  the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has sent out more absentee ballots than it did for the entirety of the time period before the Feb. 24 primary. In February, about 21,000 absentee applications went out, whereas, for the April 7 race, already 36,236 absentee ballots have been sent out.

 ”We anticipated there would be stronger voter interest. We saw that the day after the election,” said Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen. “The attitude is: ‘Now we have to take it seriously.’ ” 

Driving the interest is a head-to-head battle in the mayoral runoff between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia as well as 18 wards that are seeing run-off races.

A look at the ward-by-ward numbers show a mixed bag. Some of the higher turnout wards include the 41st and 19th, where Garcia performed well in the first round. But lakefront wards that favor Emanuel were also seeing high early numbers.

“We don’t know how much of it is affected by people looking ahead, Spring Break. It’s like a trifecta. It’s right after Easter, it’s right in the middle of Passover, it’s right in the middle of Spring break for the public schools and the parochial schools,” Allen said. “That’s the wild card out there. Is this just more people getting their voting done now, or is this an indication that there is more interest because there’s two candidates and all of these contests?”

Either way, Allen called the numbers “encouraging.”

Still, high early balloting has not proven to be an accurate indicator of turnout since many of those votes may have happened anyway — they’re just happening earlier. Last fall’s contentious governor’s race between Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner also saw high early vote numbers. But that was a far cry from being a predictor, in fact, city turnout was way down on the actual Nov. 4 Election Day.