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Low Turnout in Chicago Election Doesn't Derail Rahm Challenger, Chuy

By Tanveer Ali | February 25, 2015 3:24pm
 Voyer turnout was low for this election.
Voyer turnout was low for this election.
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Getty Images/Scott Olson

CHICAGO — Not many Chicagoans came out to vote Tuesday, which is surprising considering the election yielded 20 runoff races, including the one for mayor

"It's surprising that Chuy Garcia and the others were able to take Rahm Emanuel to a runoff," said Dick Simpson, a former alderman who is a professor at University of Illinois at Chicago. "Low turnout usually favors the incumbent."

The turnout for Tuesday's municipal election stands at 32.7 percent, the lowest since 2007 when Mayor Richard M. Daley win his sixth term in a landslide. Only 33.1 percent of registered Chicagoans voted in that one.

"It is one of our lowest turnouts ever," Simpson said.

Simpson, an expert on Chicago's elections, also said he was surprised by the number of aldermanic races going to runoffs. In all, 19 seem to be going to a head-to-head vote in April, many of which feature a mayor-backed incumbent and a challenger who is teaming up with Garcia.

"This election was a referendum against the incumbent," Simpson said. "They certainly affected the vote against Emanuel."

In some parts of the city, Emanuel was hurt by the low turnout. In the 42nd Ward, which covers chunks of Downtown, 73.2 percent of voters cast a ballot to re-elect the mayor, the highest of any ward. But, Ald. Brendan Reilly was unopposed in the 42nd Ward race. As a result, only 27.3 percent of 42nd Ward voters cast a ballot.

Prior to her death before this election, Ald. JoAnn Thompson received over $20,000 in campaign funds from Emanuel's Super PAC, Chicago Forward. Thompson was taken off the ballot after she died and only 22.3 percent of the voters in the 16th Ward came out to vote. That's the lowest in the city.

In the 19th Ward, centered on the Far Southwest Side, 51.5 percent of voters came out to vote, the highest of all 50 wards. While the mayor claimed the most votes in the ward at 41.7 percent, Garcia claimed 36.1 percent. That's higher than the 33.9 percent he claimed citywide.

Simpson said he expects turnout to climb in April's runoff vote. Who will win depends on old-fashioned democracy.

To win, Garcia will have to convince more people to vote for him while Emanuel will have to make sure his supporters actually go to the polls, Simpson said.