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Despite Historic Chicago Election, Voter Turnout Could Be Even Lower Than It Was In February

About 19,000 fewer people have used early voting than ahead of the 2015 runoff election.

A polling place in Lakeview in 2019.
Mauricio Pena/ Block Club Chicago
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Editor’s Note: This story was last updated at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. It will be updated until the polls close Election Day.

DOWNTOWN — Chicago will have a historic election Tuesday — but voters aren’t turning out in big numbers.

Voters will choose between Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot for the mayor’s seat, meaning the city will get its first black woman mayor, and there are 15 aldermanic races still to be decided in the runoff election. But despite a warm, sunny forecast for Tuesday, turnout is expected to be low.

That’s because early voting is slightly behind what it was in February’s election, said Jim Allen, Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman. The February election saw near-record-low turnout, with younger people especially skipping the polls.

While February’s election came on a chilly day, Tuesday is expected to be in the 50s and be partly sunny.

But Tuesday “is gonna be proof that weather is not a factor” in turnout, Allen said. “Turnout will probably be very similar to what it was in February at the rate it’s going.”

Compared to the last runoff election in 2015, about 18,000 more voters have applied for vote-by-mail ballots. About 62 percent of those ballots have been returned so far — more than were returned at this point in the Feb. 26 election.

But less people took advantage of early voting ahead of this year’s runoff compared to the 2015 runoff, Allen said Monday night. Early voting totals are about 19,000 less than the numbers for early voting leading up to the 2015 runoff, he said.

Voter registration is about 10.5 percent higher now than it was in the 2015 runoff. Although voters age 25 to 34 make up the largest chunk of voters, they have the second lowest turnout in early voting, officials said.

The 2015 runoff election saw a turnout of 41.10 percent with 592,524 ballots cast. That election saw incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel face off against challenger Chuy Garcia and 18 aldermanic races on the ballot.

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