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Low voter turnout, scattered problems at polls mark Chicago mayoral race

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 2/27/2019 Juan Perez Jr., Bill Ruthhart
a woman sitting on a chair © Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune

Chicago barely escaped setting a record for low voter turnout in the historic 14-way mayoral race, sparking speculation that voters wanted the field to clear some before choosing their favorite in the April 2 runoff.

Nearly 539,000 residents — about 34 percent of registered voters — had cast ballots as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, according to unofficial Chicago Board of Election Commissioners data.

That anemic total ranks among the lowest turnout levels recorded in a city election since it was 33 percent in 2007, when Richard M. Daley won his sixth and final term.

“We’re not seeing significant turnout,” Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen told reporters.

“We hope voters make up their minds and participate ... but it appears some voters are either just disengaged or not willing to make a decision until they know who’s in the runoff, assuming there is a runoff,” Allen said.

Chicago’s pool of registered voters is 11 percent higher than it was in 2015. That is thanks largely to a surge of registrations tied to the November 2018 midterms. So part of the low turnout tally could be that those November voters are not turning out for the February city election.

“But the thing is, in 2007, you did not have a contested race,” Allen said. “You did not have a hotly-contested race … So it’s kind of apples to oranges."

Disillusionment with the city’s past leadership may play a part as well.

Peter Rivera, 55, a Chicago Public Schools security officer, said he stopped voting about seven years ago. No matter who’s elected, nothing changes and politicians break promises, he said. His friends and family mostly feel the same way and haven't urged him to vote, Rivera said.

"Once they're in there, they'll forget about you ... it's all about money and power, that's all they want," Rivera said.

Jose Carmona, 34, of Lakeview, who works in HR for the Cubs, said he usually votes, but this election didn’t grab his attention.

“I think a lot of the candidates say what they’re going to do but usually don’t follow through,” he said.

Carmona said he might vote if there’s a runoff, but he still wouldn’t go out of his way. “I think people believe that no one’s going to make a big difference.”

The lack of voter turnout was part of a day that saw scattered problems throughout the city, a report of gift cards being handed out at one voting site and the removal of at least two election judges.

One polling place remained open until 8 p.m. after equipment problems delayed the start of voting for more than two hours after polls were scheduled to open. Election officials asked for a court order to extend voting hours at the Independence Park site in the Irving Park neighborhood.

At the Barbara Jean Wright Apartments, 1354 S. Morgan St., on the Near West Side, multiple election judges and a poll watcher confirmed reports that at least one person was standing in the narrow hallway outside the room where votes were cast handing out gift cards. The judges said they only became aware of the suspicious activity once the person had left and irate voters began asking poll workers where they could claim their gift cards.

The gift cards, reportedly for Target, were given to people after they voted. It’s unclear if they were intended to persuade voters to select a certain candidate.

One judge was pulled from a Humboldt Park neighborhood polling place after she reportedly engaged in electioneering for an aldermanic candidate and then had two associates threaten other workers at a 26th Ward polling place.

A second judge was pulled from duty because she reportedly was intoxicated while working at a 34th Ward polling place at a West Pullman neighborhood school.

jjperez@chicagotribune.com

bruthhart@chicagotribune.com

Chicago Tribune’s Tony Briscoe, Morgan Greene and Anna Kim contributed.

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