ALBANY PARK — Ahead of Tuesday's election, voters turned out in droves to cast their early decision ballots in hotly-contested aldermanic races in the 33rd and 39th wards, according to numbers provided by the Chicago Board of Elections.
The total number of early votes cast city-wide was up 23 percent versus 2011, but the 33rd and 39th wards saw far bigger gains.
In 2011, 817 ballots were cast in the 33rd Ward, when incumbent Dick Mell ran unopposed. This year in early voting, a three-way race between challengers Tim Meegan and Annisa Wanat and Ald. Deb Mell, who was appointed to replace her father in 2013, drew 1,404 voters, a 72 percent jump.
"Many ward voters weren't even alive the last time there was a competitive race here, so this is a new thing for a lot of us," Nick Burt, Meegan's campaign manager, said via email.
"Our office has been busy all weekend. Almost 80 volunteers were hitting doors and making calls Saturday and we have hundreds of volunteer shifts filled for the next few days," Burt said. "We'll have a robust get out the vote effort working through to the last minute Tuesday."
Mell said she was encouraged by the turnout and the fact that early voting makes the process more accessible to people.
"Any time people get out and vote, it's a good thing," she said.
Wanat pointed to a Feb. 6 poll that showed 30 percent of voters surveyed were still undecided.
"These people make up their mind at the last minute and will vote on Tuesday," she emailed. "We heard from many undecideds at the doors and on the phones this weekend and keep pushing our message."
In the 39th Ward, Ald. Margaret Laurino is also locked in a tough race against a pair of challengers — retired teacher Joe Laiacona and Roberty Murphy, an architect and co-founder of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coaltion.
Early voting was up 82 percent in 2015 in the ward — 2,383 ballots were cast compared with 1,306 in 2011.
"These are good numbers for us heading into Tuesday," Murphy responded via email. "I think this reflects the desire to see change, and now that there is a real candidate to carry that message, the numbers reflect that mood."
Laurino responded through a spokesman on Sunday, stating, "These numbers are consistent with what we expected in this election."
Polls will be open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the ballots cast, a run-off election between the top two vote-getters will take place April 7.
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