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Wake up, Chicago: Low voter turnout hurts

OPINION

  • A voter prepares to cast his vote in the state primary at a laundramat March 20, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois.
A voter prepares to cast his vote in the state primary at a laundramat March… (John Gress/Getty Images )
March 28, 2012|By Waymon Hudson, RedEye special contributor

Let's have a little talk, Chicago.

There was a definable lack of enthusiasm in Chicago voters as the GOP presidential primary came to our state.  Went I went to go vote, rushing because I just gotten in from the airport on a trip, there was NO ONE in my polling station in Lakeview.  It was completely dead-- you could hear a pin drop. 

Perhaps it's because in the Illinois primary vote, only 308,063 of 1,288,293 registered voters bothered to hit the polls in Chicago. Voter turnout was in the low 20 percent, making it the lowest turnout for a presidential primary in over 70 years--a phenomena echoed in many of the previous primary states.

Whatever the voter apathy might be attributed to, low voter turnout has real consequences in every race up and down the ticket.  In last week's vote, for example, there were important races down ticket from the lackluster primary fight, including dozens of judges up for election at all levels.  Yet, despite the large number of races, even the poll workers at my voting station seemed surprised I showed up to cast my ballot.

Every election is important.  Races for state representatives and senators have huge impacts on the everyday lives of Chicagoans.  For example, the momentum for a legislative move from civil unions to full marriage rights for same-sex couples continues to build, but more votes are needed in the state legislature. Important tax, civil rights, budget, transportation, and infrastructure issues controlled by the state are all shaped by people getting involved and voting in every election. 

Even further down the ballot, there are races that certainly need every vote possible, including aldermen, school boards, and fair-minded judges. These people have real impact in our lives, from filling potholes to CTA fares to planning neighborhood development. Low turnout has an even higher effect on these smaller candidate races-- an effect already seen in the low turnout in the primary season.  While so many Chicago voters stayed home, let's not forget the coordinated efforts in Republican-controlled states to pass "voter ID laws" that in reality disenfranchise young people, minorities, and the elderly in huge numbers.

In total, some 32 states have moved to pass tough voter laws restricting early voting, making it harder to register to vote, or requiring ID that many voters don't have while no longer allowing things like student IDs.

Others are literally fighting for the right to vote all over again, yet only 20 percent turned out here in Chicago.  I get it.  We all have busy lives with families, jobs and other responsibilities.  Yet, voting touches every part of these busy lives.  It's why making the effort to vote is a responsibility and a duty. Combating voter apathy and low turnout is always a challenge, but we have a responsibility to not only go out and vote, but to educate ourselves and those around us on the issues we care about.

Every vote matters--so stop staying home, Chicago. 

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