Chicago elections see sluggish turnout

When polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, turnout stood at 32.1% with 507,852 ballots cast out of 1,581,564 registered voters. Early votes were driven by those 65 and older, but middle-aged voters closed with the highest turnout. People ages 18 to 34 only accounted for 17% of votes.

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Angela Allen (right), 54, votes in a voting precinct at St. Moses the Black Athletic Center in the Grand Crossing neighborhood on election day, Tuesday. Feb. 25, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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Esteban Rodriguez, a 65-year-old Army veteran, lives in a shelter for veterans. He’s one of a few there who have the ability to vote — many don’t have an up-to-date state ID.

So he made the trip Tuesday to his local polling place, the YMCA in the 27th Ward, to exercise his cherished right to vote in Chicago’s municipal elections. His top concern was the equitable distribution of city resources.

“I’m sick of seeing taxpayer money spent not where it’s supposed to be,” Rodriguez said. “There needs to be more support for services and affordable housing. I know what it’s like to be homeless and to feel powerless.”

Rodriguez was one of hundreds of thousands to head out into the sunny skies and 50-degree weather that greeted voters at the polls Tuesday. It was the people’s turn to have their say after the seemingly never-ending campaign stops, candidate forums, attack ads and political mailers.

But it wasn’t quite the turnout some had hoped for based on high early numbers of mail-in ballots, which turned out to represent more of a change in voting method than a new interest in local elections.

“Election Day turnout has been pretty sluggish compared to 2019, which was not great to begin with,” Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Max Bever said.

When polls closed at 7 p.m., turnout stood at 32.1% with 507,852 ballots cast out of 1,581,564 registered voters. Early votes were driven by those 65 and older, but middle-aged voters closed with the highest turnout. People ages 18 to 34 only accounted for 17% of votes. The strongest voting hour for all voters was 5 p.m.

There was still a ways to go for this year’s turnout to catch up to the 35.5% turnout for the first round of voting in 2019 when over a dozen candidates vied to replace former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

For both mail-in and early voting, the board had counted 112,000 ballots as of Monday night with about 100,000 mail-in ballots still outstanding. Based on past history, 70,000 to 80,000 of those were likely to be sent in or delivered to a drop box on Tuesday, which could push turnout higher.

Any vote-by-mail ballots received on Tuesday won’t be counted until Wednesday morning. Bever said the remainder should arrive in the next few days, and the election board has till March 14 to tally all the votes from mail-in ballots. Those counts are likely to be particularly vital to determining tight alderperson races.

Harold Holt, a 56-year-old library assistant and lifelong Chicago resident, in front of the polling place at Damascus Baptist Church.

Harold Holt, a 56-year-old library assistant and lifelong Chicago resident, in front of the polling place at Damascus Baptist Church.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

Harold Holt, a 56-year-old library assistant, was at the polls by 8 a.m. Tuesday to vote before work.

Holt said he was “ambivalent” about voting, though he cast his ballot to honor those who fought for the right to. “People died so that we can have the right to do this, so I’ll definitely be voting,” he said.

Like many voters, Holt’s top issue in the election was crime and public safety. He said he’s heard “lots of ideas,” but nothing he thinks is solid enough to make the change he wants to see.

“I still have yet to hear something definitive,” Holt said outside the Damascus Baptist Church polling location on the Far South Side. “Nobody, including the current mayor, has said anything definitive, but change at this point can’t hurt.”

Kenneth Degales, a lifelong Chicagoan, brought with him to Mahalia Jackson Elementary School on the way to vote.

Kenneth Degales, a lifelong Chicagoan, brought with him to Mahalia Jackson Elementary School on the way to vote.

Zack Miller/Sun-Times

A little farther north in Auburn Gresham, Kenneth Degales, a 21st Ward resident, showed up at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School with donuts.

He said he was inspired by someone else in the community who started bringing refreshments to election workers, and in November, he vowed he would, too.

“I wanted to keep my promise and make sure that they’re fully awake, not falling asleep,” Degales said. “The donuts will hopefully help them to keep going.”

Across the street from Woodlawn’s Wadsworth Elementary, one of many schools-turned-polling places, Darryl McConnell was waiting for a bus to work and ignoring people handing out fliers for candidates.

He’d already decided he wasn’t going to vote.

“I don’t know the people,” McConnell, a Stoney Island and Woodlawn native, said. “They’re always saying something. Black, white, doesn’t make a difference.

“The system’s all right, it’s just the people who run it,” McConnell said. “They ain’t got nothing for me … I gotta take care of myself. Life is fragile.”

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