February 21, 2023

Expert: Voter Turnout Expected to Remain Low in Municipal Election

By Laaiba Mahmood

After the lowest voter turnout since 1942 for the 2022 Chicago midterm elections last November, one Chicago political expert says he expects to see continued low voter turnout in the spring municipal elections. 

According to an analysis of data from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, only 46.4% of registered voters in Chicago casted ballots in the 2022 midterm elections, which included the reelection of Gov. JB Pritzker. 

Dick Simpson, professor emeritus in political science at UIC and a former Chicago alderman, said voter turnout for the Feb. 28 municipal election is expected to remain low. 

“During the Harold Washington elections, turnout was around 70% or 80% in 1983 and 1987,” Simpson said. “Turnout has dropped significantly. Hopefully turnout will reach at least as high as the midterms in 2022.”

While the number of registered voters in Chicago has been increasing since 2010, turnout for registered voters has fluctuated. In 2010, 52.9% of registered voters cast their ballot, while in 2018, there was a 4 percentage point decrease to 48.8% turnout. 

The highest turnout since 2002 was during the 2018 election, with a turnout of 60.7%. In the 2022 election, 37,468 more people registered to vote, but the turnout at the polls dropped to 46.4%. 

Simpson said he sees two main issues in this year’s mayoral race: the high number of candidates in many of the races, and the question of whether voter think their individual vote is significant. 

“There are nine mayoral candidates and about 250 aldermanic candidates,” Simpson said. “The voters don’t have a clear, strong view as they would if there were just two candidates running and if the platforms of the candidates were absolutely different. The other issue is whether voters feel like their individual vote will make a difference.”

Multiple mayoral campaigns have been surrounded by controversy and hostility toward each other. The tone of the campaign may have an influence on voter turnout, Simpson said. 

“It’s been a very negative campaign. Negative campaigns tend to convince voters that every candidate is a crook and that there’s no one worth voting for.”

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In-person early voting is currently taking place. Chicago residents may go to any voting location, not just ones in their ward. Voters can check their registration status online.

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