Last summer, I visited the set of “Boss,” the Starz TV series about a fictional Chicago mayor named Tom Kane, played by Kelsey Grammer. On that day, they were filming people walking off the "L" to vote in the primary election between the sitting governor, Mac Cullen, and Kane’s candidate, State Treasurer Alex Zajac.
I told Grammer that in Illinois, people wouldn’t be wearing shorts and shirtsleeves on Primary Day.
“When is the primary?” he asked.
“In March,” I said.
“Well, we screwed that one up.”
Turns out the joke was on me, not the producers of “Boss.” On this Primary Day, the temperature is going to hit a record-setting 80 degrees. I wore jeans and a leather jacket to the polls, but only because I still can’t believe the weather is this warm in mid-March.
Illinoisans are used to voting in gloomy weather. The primary election was set for March by Cook County Democrats who wanted to discourage independent candidates from campaigning throughout the winter. The Machine precinct captains would knock on doors in the deepest blizzard, because if they didn’t bring out the voters, they’d lose their city jobs.
Today’s primary is going to disprove an old canard about elections: that weather has anything to do with turnout. Rain, snow and cold are supposed to keep voters away from the polls. But at 9 a.m. this morning, I was the 16th voter in my precinct. The Sun-Times is reporting that, “Despite unseasonably warm and sunny weather — or perhaps because of it — elections officials reported very light turnout in the first few hours after polls opened, Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen said.”
Now, they’re saying people aren’t voting because the weather is fair. What brings out voters are close, exciting races for important offices. Today, across most of Chicago, the only hot races are for offices most people don’t even know exist: committeeman, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Water Reclamation District. There are a few good races for state representative, but even people aware of that office are usually unaware of the person who occupies it. We don’t have a primary for governor or senator, or a Democratic presidential primary.
In November 2008, when the weather was cooler than it is today, voter turnout in Illinois was 63 percent. The state with the lowest voter turnout that day was Hawaii. The weather didn’t keep Hawaiians away from the polls. They all knew their native son, Barack Obama, was going to win.
If you were going to vote today, you’d vote even if the temperature was 20 degrees. And if you weren’t, this weather won’t change your mind.
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