Lori Lightfoot

Too Many Candidates, Poor Youth Turnout Blamed for Low Vote Totals in Chicago

The city of Chicago saw just over one-third of its eligible voters cast ballots, a near record low

With 14 candidates, voters in Chicago yesterday had more choices for mayor than ever before, but only 33.5 percent of residents cast a ballot in the wide-open race.

About 539,000 of the roughly 1.5 million registered voters went to the polls yesterday, according to data published by the Chicago Board of Elections. The low turnout very nearly set a record, but barely eclipsed the 2007 mayoral race, which saw just 33.08 percent of voters participated.

“We’re glad we didn’t get the record,” said spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections Jim Allen. “This is not a record we want to set.”

Merisel Hernandez, chairperson of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, theorized that there were just too many choices when it came to the mayor’s race.

“We had 14 candidates, and how do people start figuring out which one to vote for?” Hernandez asked. “I do think that [too much choice] is a factor, but with a diverse group of candidates – young, more mature, African-American, white, Hispanic – I thought it would be an attractive group.”

When asked why they didn’t vote, some people told NBC 5 they were just too busy all day, or that they couldn’t to their polling place because they were at work.

Voters aged 18-25 – one of the highest-turnout demographics of the 2018 midterms – had a dismal turnout rate, as fewer than 10,000 people in that age range voted in yesterday’s election.

“We had a big fall-off from November until now [with younger voters]. They led the way in November, not only in Chicago but across the country,” Allen said. “They were clearly intent on sending some kind of message to Washington or possibly in the governor’s race.”

Allen said that even though turnout was low by Chicago standards, the city still does better than other large cities. New York City’s most recent mayoral election saw just 18 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.  

Others, officials said, may have skipped voting in the February election to wait and see who the final two candidates in the runoff would be.

In an interesting twist, Allen said that “social shaming” on social media was responsible for actually getting some voters out to the polls, and even possibly for helping Chicago avoid a record low in turnout.    

“I think the word got out that there was an election today and there was a little social shaming that we saw on [social media],” Allen said. “More people came out in those final hours. More people showed up [later in the day] than we had all day long.”

Voters who missed the Feb. 26 election but still want to vote for mayor can vote in the runoff election between Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, which will take place in early April.

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