Primary Election turnout hits record low

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Registered Chicago voters shied away from the polls on March 18 for the Primary Elections and as a result set the record for the lowest general Primary Election turnout ever according to unofficial results released by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

Only 16 percent of registered voters cast primary ballots this year, continuing a trend downward from 24 percent in 2012 and 27 percent in 2010.

Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners was hoping to see a return to at least 2010 levels but acknowledged in a March 17 press conference that a “continually eroding” number of people are participating in the electoral process.

“I think we have made the process as easy as possible, especially with early voting” said Neal, but he nevertheless conceded that voters appear fatigued with the closeness of election cycles and the lack of competitive races.

Poll workers in the 12th Ward, where Democratic turnout was down over 46 percent compared to 2010, agreed with Neal, telling EXTRA that low turnout stems from a lack of awareness, busy schedules and voters generally being fed up with who is running.

Election data backs up these observations, especially in regards to the impact of competitive races. This year’s contest, won by Bruce Rauner, to represent the Republican Party for Illinois Governor in the November general election was crowed and contentious.

Republican interest and participation, in turn, was up across the city, increasing 22 percent in historically Hispanic wards identified by the Medill Data Project and 19 percent overall when compared to 2010 primary results. Republican voter participation in the 12th ward increased over 32 percent.

Overall turnout in historically Democratic Hispanic wards, however, was down 38 percent in 2014 when compared to vote totals from the 2010 primaries. As a result, there was an overall decrease in the number of votes cast for Hispanic candidates.  Nearly 25 percent fewer votes, for example, were cast in the Democratic primary contest for U.S. Representative from the 4th District this year, ensuring Luis Gutiérrez a victory with less than 16,000 votes from Chicago residents.

“We don’t write the election code, but we are always looking for efficiencies and ways to at least get a public debate going on the best way to conduct elections,” said Neal while answering questions about election costs and increasing voter turnout.

“I have in the past raised the issue of using the mail, all mail registration, all mail voting,” he said. “We’re going to have to try something different.”

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