As Polls Close in Illinois Primary, Chicago Ekes Out 20% Voter Turnout

(Patty Wetli / WTTW News)(Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

Chicago voters may have reached a new low, at least in terms of turnout percentage for Tuesday’s primary election.

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Initial results from the Chicago Board of Elections show just 20.2% of the nearly 1.7 million registered voters cast a ballot — including day-of, early voting and vote-by-mail ballots.

In 2012, turnout was 24% citywide, a former nadir for election officials.

At midday Tuesday, turnout was at just 12%, a number Max Bever, spokesman for the board of elections, called “shockingly low.”

By 5 p.m., the percentage had crept up to just shy of 17%. A late surge — more than one-third of Election Day votes were cast between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. — pushed the tally over 20%.

Even when compared with previous municipal and midterm elections — which historically attract less voter interest — this presidential primary has been “pretty sleepy,” Bever said, and attributed the sluggish turnout to a lack of competition at the top of the ballot, where President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are their respective party’s presumptive nominees.

There are nearly 110,000 outstanding vote-by-mail ballots, which could make a difference in tight races, said Bever. Traditionally, the board of elections receives approximately 80% of requested mail ballots, meaning another 80,000 votes could ultimately be added to Tuesday’s tally.

“If some of the races are close tonight, ... officials may not feel comfortable conceding,” Bever said.

Of the voters casting ballots, the vast majority have been 55 years of age or older, accounting for approximately 55% of the votes counted by Tuesday night.

People cast their ballots at Edgewater bakery Edge of Sweetness for the primary election on March 19, 2024. (Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)People cast their ballots at Edgewater bakery Edge of Sweetness for the primary election on March 19, 2024. (Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)

The 2020 presidential primary saw a turnout of 37.8%, down from 53.5% in the 2016 primary.

The one upside to the low turnout was a lack of reported issues, Bever said.

Only five precincts weren’t open promptly at 6 a.m., and the majority of those were up and running within 15 minutes, he said.

Chicago’s board of elections will continue updating turnout numbers as later arriving mail-in ballots are counted.

Early voting numbers from the Cook County suburbs, meanwhile, were down 2.22% from the figures in 2022. The Cook County clerk reported 75,122 total early ballots cast at 53 locations this year. There were an additional 50,000 mail ballots.

Turnout before Election Day in Lyons and Lemont was up the most compared to 2022 figures, and down about 30% in Norridge and Hodgkins. Lemont voters will consider a park district bond referendum Tuesday.

Around 9:30 p.m., the clerk reported counting 274,511 ballots on Election Day, accounting for a 17.15% turnout.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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