Chicago election turn out hits recent low

By Laura Furr and Emily Hoerner

Updated at 11 p.m.

Chicago voter turnout for the 2015 municipal election was the lowest it has been in recent history, beating out the 2007 low of 33.1 percent.

According to the Chicago Board of Election’s unofficial summary 32.7 percent of the city’s 1.42 million registered voters showed up at the polls Tuesday.

Throughout the day, Chicagoans described the calm of the polling stations.

“It was super quiet. It was like a library,” said 34-year-old Chicagoan Whet Moser, who tweeted that he was the 122nd voter at 3 p.m. at the Smith Park voting site in the 26th Ward.

The popular Twitter hashtag #ChicagoElection2015 shows various accounts of low attendance across the city. Moser said he noticed that people on his own social media timeline were posting similar sentiments.

Moser said he voted to fulfill his civic duty. He normally votes before or after work, but said he had to vote in the afternoon today.

He said the low turnout was “a little depressing,” and credited to what he saw the lack of another serious mayoral contender.

Marie Smith, who has been manning the polls since 5:45 this morning at the Martin Luther King Library, 3436 S. King Drive, in the 2nd Ward, said turnout has been low all day.

With 30 years of polling experience, Smith said she has noticed this trend.

“When it was really contentious or big voting then you had a lot of turnout,” Smith said “This one people are coming in mostly knowing who they are voting for and they have a commitment to that candidate.”

However, those who did vote this earlier morning were largely motivated by issues surrounding education and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to close 49 public schools in 2013. Many took to social media to decry the incumbent mayor.

Yesenia Sotelo was the 22nd voter at her polling station in the 40th Ward around 7:45 this morning. The 35-year-old Chicago native said she was surprised by the low turnout given the attention the election has drawn in her community.

“There have been so many political signs up for so many weeks” Sotelo said. “I was joking, ‘How could I ever sleep through this?’”

Sotelo said that the vacant Lyman Trumbull Elementary School, on the corner of Foster and Ashland avenues, is a constant symbol of the disappointment she feels with the mayor. She tweeted this personal response after she voted.

“I don’t have any children in CPS, but I hope to one day. I believe everyone in this city knows somebody that has been affected by the closings,” Sotelo said.

Julio Burgos, a 28-year-old first-time voter, said he cast a ballot for the incumbent mayor’s opponent Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in the 38th Ward this morning.

“Well, my wife, she’s a teacher and she works for the city of Chicago, so we’re trying to get Rahm Emanuel out,” Burgos said.

Garcia, who is backed by the Chicago Teacher’s Union, is largely seen as Emanuel’s most serious competition.

Others on Twitter, like Sarah Ji, tweeted about their disdain for the school closure and the mayor in general.

The 42-year-old photographer planned to vote after picking up her daughter from school this evening. She said education was of prime concern, but she also noted that crime, violence and health care disparity were on her radar.

“Honestly, looking over that list, I think if I were to break it down to what really matters to me as I vote, it’s that #BlackLivesMatter,” she said. “Because let’s face it, all these issues are issues that impact the black community the most.”

Ji said she is voting for “anyone but Rahm.”

Although residents trickled in small numbers to voting wards so far, poll watchers said the action will likely pick up toward the end of the work day.

“This is a working community,” Smith, the veteran poll watcher, said. “I believe it is really going to pick up after 5 p.m.”

As voters continue to make their way to polls, check back with Medill Reports for more Voices of the Voters.

Hear more about polling places in Chicago from Medill reporter Dean DeChiaro.
Photo at top: Urcille Brown, 100, says voting is a duty. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” (Phoebe Tollefson/Medill)