By Laaiba Mahmood and Karlie Sanchez
Following a 35.85% turnout in the Feb. 28 Chicago municipal general election, 38.67% of registered voters cast ballots in person or through mail in the city’s April 4 municipal runoff election that resulted in Brandon Johnson elected as mayor.
This year’s runoff turnout is 5 percentage points higher than the turnout in the 2019 runoff when Lori Lightfoot beat Toni Preckwinkle.
According to an analysis of data from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, the city’s 19th Ward saw the highest turnout, with 62.04% of registered voters casting ballots. The lowest turnout was seen in the 16th Ward, with 20.96% of registered voters casting ballots.
The city saw a 3 percentage-point increase in turnout from the municipal election to the runoff, accounting for approximately 50,000 more ballots cast. The 2019 runoff saw 33,815 fewer ballots cast than the corresponding municipal election, while the 2015 runoff saw 108,824 more ballots cast than the corresponding municipal election.
Max Bever, spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said there was a notable increase in the number of younger voters that turned out for the runoff. The numbers he cited were unofficial counts for the runoff.
“The biggest increase between the two elections was seen among 25-to-34,” Bever said. “For February, it was 70,306. On April 4th, it was 87,506. So above a 17,000 vote jump there.”
Johnson had 51% of the vote with 286,647 ballots, with Vallas at 49% with 270,775 votes.
Dick Simpson, UIC professor emeritus and a former Chicago alderman, pointed out that the increase in votes cast by the 25-to-34 age group corresponded to the margin of victory for Johnson.
“I think what this election illustrates better than anything else is that a single vote matters,” Bever said. “It really does. And a single vote matters even more in a low voter turnout election.”
In previous elections, the older population has had the highest turnout, data show. However, the youngest voter population, 18-to-24, saw a 30% increase in April from the previous February general election. With 70,306 votes in the Feb. 28 election, and 87,506 votes in the April election.
Besides an endorsement from the Chicago Teachers Union, Johnson had help from many civic organizations. GoodKids MadCity and Chicago Votes made many efforts to keep the youth involved in the voting process, as a result, young voters turned out for Johnson. He also had campaign workers knock on more than 50,000 doors. He also visited many neighborhoods and organized rallies with his team.
Bernie Sanders held a rally for Johnson to encourage voters in support of him, on March 30 at Credit Union 1 Arena at UIC, just five days before the runoff election.
“The fundamental issue is what side are you on? Are you on the side of working people or are you on the side of the speculators and the billionaires? And I know which side Brandon is on,” Sanders said at the rally.
Johnson also played to the crowd, who were mainly young people and union workers: “This moment has been brought to us by a very profound struggle. Many of our ancestors knew that one day, tomorrow will come. And I just can’t help but recognize and feel that tomorrow has arrived, Chicago.”
Despite the rallies and the boots-on-the-ground campaigning by Johnson, Simpson said he was surprised by the low turnout in the runoff election.
“Turnout usually depends on a couple of things: how clear the distinction between the candidates is and how much [voters] feel their vote actually matters,” Simpson said. “Given that both were true, it’s surprising that there wasn’t more than a 3 percentage point increase.”
In addition to a shift in vote trends by age group, voters cast their ballots in a variety of ways, including early voting and mail-in voting along with voting on election day.
“This was the first time in municipal election history that election day voting dipped under 50% of votes being cast,” Bever said. “So for the Feb. 28 election, just over 47% of people voted on election day. For the April 4 election, just over 43% of people voted on election day.”
Johnson will take office as Chicago’s 57th mayor on May 15.