Voters not flocking to ballot without a Daley

Early morning voting at Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Little Italy today. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

The draw of a mayoral ballot that didn’t have a Daley on it wasn’t as great as some election forecasters had expected.

Early reports on today’s election indicate voter turnout will be well below the 50 percent predicted, possibly as low as 40 percent.

With polls set to close at 7 p.m., Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said the low figures have been consistent across the city and no parts of the city showed significantly higher voter participation than others.
“Citywide it’s pretty even,” Neal said, saying snow this morning didn’t help matters. “I think this morning it wasn’t ideal. That’s a factor.”
The two previous municipal elections had about 33 percent turnout, Neal said, but election officials expected to reach about 50 percent given this was the first year in more than a half-century that an incumbent wasn’t running for mayor.

Those that did show up to vote, however, said they were energized by the chance to put a new person in City Hall.

"We have been here for 15 years, and it is the first time we feel like we have a choice," said Joy Donohoe, who brought her toddler son along with her to the 47th Ward polling place at Coonley Elementary School. "The power of the incumbent in this city is so strong that it is difficult to overcome. It is not a dig against Mayor Daley. It was always just a foregone conclusion he would win."

Today's election got under way at 6 a.m. and has run smoothly, aside from a few tales typical of Chicago elections, like a couple of drunk election judges and a pastor who overslept and opened the church polling place late. Along with the mayoral candidates, 239 men and women are running for alderman, with only seven uncontested races in the 50 wards.

Pre-Election Day polls on the mayoral race showed former congressman and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel well ahead of his three major challengers: Carol Moseley Braun, the former U.S. senator and the first black woman elected to that office; Gery Chico, who has held high-level positions at City Hall, Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District and City Colleges, and Miguel del Valle, the first Latino in the state Senate and currently city clerk.

Also on the ballot are Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins and community activist William "Dock" Walls.

The big question was whether Emanuel can get the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a one-on-one runoff election April 5.

On the city's North Side, voter turnout had been so slow in Warren Park that election judges cheered when two voters walked in. Only 71 voters, out of 600 in the 50th-Ward precinct, had voted as of 12:30 p.m.

Turnout was similarly slow for the other two precincts in Warren Park.

"It should be packed at lunch hour and it's not," said Kathy Holdren, one of six judges staring at seven empty voting booths. "It goes faster if we have more people."

In the 38th precinct in Uptown, only about 100 people had voted by noon. But just after noon, seven people showed up at once, the biggest surge poll workers had seen all day.

David Stein, 53, was among the lunchtime voters who showed up to vote in a subsidized residential building in Uptown. For him, the aldermanic race to replace Ald. Helen Schiller in the 46th Ward was more important than the mayoral race.
"It's very important in this ward to preserve affordable housing and serve a diverse population that includes economic and class as well as racial" Stein said. "Some candidates are for that and some are not."