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Alex Wilson/Medill News Service

A crowd waits to vote early at the board of elections on 69 W. Washington Thursday.

Early voting ends, turnout low among minorities in Cook County suburbs

by Alexander Wilson
Oct 28, 2010


Alex Wilson/Medill News Service

Early voting turnout  showed that the majority of participants were from predominantly white, affluent areas.

Turnout in polling places in suburban Cook County show that residents in several areas with large minority populations did not vote early.  

Numbers released Thursday by the Cook County clerk showed that places like Park Forest and Cicero had lackluster turnout at early voting locations. Park Forest has a minority population of 61 percent, with an African American population of 55 percent. The total population of the suburb is more than 22,000, but as of Wednesday only 747 people had voted. 

Cicero has over 26,000 registered voters with 77 percent Hispanic, but as of Wednesday only 921 people had shown up at either of two early voting locations.  

By contrast, affluent and white residents turned out for early voting in greater numbers. Orland Park, which has a population that is 87 percent white, was the largest early voting site. More than 5,000 residents voted early there this year.  

The trend fits conventional wisdom for the election year, with excitement for the election season coming from older, white voters—a demographic that tends to be conservative. 

A total of 72,244 suburban residents voted early this year, according to the Cook County clerk.  

Democratic candidates are relying on minority voters this election season to fend off conservative opposition. African-Americans voted at 95 percent for Democrats in 2008 and Hispanics have voted at 2-1 for Democrats.  

Several of the voters at the board of elections office on 69 W. Washington St. Thursday were from the suburbs. One voter was an African-American from south suburban Calumet City. She said that she voted straight Democratic.

“I believe in what President Obama’s doing,” the woman, Sylvia Davis said. “I believe in his agenda and I believe if we don’t vote then we’re just turning back the hands of time.” 

But the overall low early voter turnout among minorities could signal that Democratic candidates might be in trouble. One political expert, however, said a number of factors could be at play. 

David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said Thursday “this is something new in Illinois politics so it’s a little difficult to read tea leaves.” The higher turnout among affluent voters could mean those residents have more free time to go to the polls early, he said.  

But he also said that Democrats have had a difficult time getting its base as excited this year as they were in 2008.

Yepsen also pointed out that in 2006 Democrats won big in Illinois, a year in which several minority areas did not have early voting polling locations.

Courtney Greve, a spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr,  said that suburbanites were permitted to use any polling location in the suburbs or the board of elections office downtown in Chicago, but polls have shown most people voted close to home.