Voter turnout on Tuesday was higher than in the two previous Chicago elections, but the increase was modest given the absence of an incumbent in the mayor’s race for the first time in 22 years. Forty-two percent of registered voters cast ballots, compared with 33 percent in 2007 and 34 percent in 2003.
“Everyone’s an expert about why people don’t come out to vote, and no one knows for sure,” said professor Paul Green of Roosevelt University. He thought the key Tuesday was the lack of suspense in the mayor’s race. “People get excited when there is competition. I give Emanuel a lot of credit. He ran as an incumbent even though he wasn’t one.”
Turnout was highest in the 19th Ward on the far southwest side, where a stunning 74 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, 16 percentage points more than the runner-up 13th Ward. The 19th Ward includes Mount Greenwood, Beverly, and Morgan Park, among the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. It’s usually among the turnout leaders: in 2007, the ward was 28 percentage points above the city average, and in 2003, 23 points higher.
“It’s so normal here to have people involved,” said outgoing 19th Ward alderwoman Virginia Rugai. “We have a really high educational level, a very stable middle-to-upper-middle class—people who are very interested in ensuring stable communities, a stable city, a stable state.” Many residents are police officers, firefighters, and city workers who belong to unions that Rugai called “the backbone of our community.” Five candidates ran for Rugai’s seat; Matt O'Shea, one of her staffers, captured it with 62 percent.
Professor Green described voting as “a religion” in the 19th. He said the ward’s high rate of home ownership means there are many residents concerned about City Hall's influence on property taxes and home values.
Gery Chico won the mayoral race in the ward with 50 percent; Rahm Emanuel got 38 percent. Green noted that Chico fared well in “die-hard Daley wards” with numerous city employees.
Turnout was lowest in the south-side 16th Ward, which includes parts of Englewood, Gage Park, the Back of the Yards, and Chicago Lawn—neighborhoods of much lower income than in the 19th Ward. Only 29 percent of the ward’s registered voters turned out. In the ward’s aldermanic field of nine, incumbent JoAnn Thompson got 43 percent, and will be in a runoff April 5 with Hal Baskin, who got 23 percent. Baskin believes turnout in the ward wasn’t as low as the official figures suggest: the transient population and widespread foreclosures reduce the number of registered voters actually available to vote, he said. In 2007 turnout in the ward was also just 26 percent, and in 2003 it was 25 percent.