Primary election turnout low, but mail-in ballots will have the final word

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Far fewer Evanston voters turned out for the 2022 primaries than in past years, according to data published by the Cook County Clerk’s office. 

As of Wednesday evening, a total of 12,642 ballots had been counted out of 50,297 registered voters in Evanston, making the turnout a bit more than 25%. More than 90% of the ballots were Democratic, while fewer than 1,000 Republican ballots were counted.

Could it have been the ballot was boring?

Why I vote. Marie Roberts (from left), Carol Nielsen, Brian Nielsen, Carmen Jacobs and Roberts’ daughter Megan, at the Civic Center for early voting. (Photo by Richard Cahan)

Perhaps, said Greg Andrus, the vice president of the Democratic Party of Evanston said. After all, there was a low number of competitive races on the top of Democrats’ ballots. Most statewide Democratic candidates ran unopposed, and Evanston’s federal and state legislators were also all unopposed.

“Here in Evanston, the most exciting thing on the ballot for people to vote for was the Secretary of State race,” Andrus said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a super important position, but it’s not the kind of race that really lights a fire under people.”

The 2022 primaries were also the first to occur in June rather than March, after the passage of a voting bill last year. This change had a significant effect in some precincts that include Northwestern University student housing: election judges at Alice Millar Chapel, which serves two precincts in the 1st and 7th Wards, said they respectively received nine and zero voters on Election Day.

About a quarter of Evanston’s votes were also cast before Election Day at the Morton Civic Center, continuing the trend from primaries at least as far back as the 2017 municipal elections. Volunteers Maeve Newton and Eloise O’Bryan handed out cards at Haven Middle School on Election Day for judicial candidates Beth Ryan and Raymond Mitchell, and said the turnout they saw for early voting was much higher.

“We had definitely a couple hundred people a day for early voting at the civic center,” O’Bryan said.

Credit: Richard Cahan

The final tallies aren’t in yet, however, as one mail-in ballots will take longer to be reported. These are valid as long as they’re postmarked on or before Election Day and received within 14 days afterwards. Andrus said voters are warming to mail-in ballots in greater numbers after the 2020 and 2021 elections, and that many are sticking with them more permanently

“A lot of people took it up during the first year or two years of COVID, because they had to,” Andrus said. “And now, they’ve just sort of stuck with it because they found it more convenient.”

He added that while many races have clear winners by the end of the night on Election Day, officially certified results from the county clerk or the Illinois State Board of Elections likely won’t be available for a couple of weeks. These numbers could impact the outcome of close races, and could raise the turnout rate for the primaries in general.

The Cook County Clerk and State Board of Elections could not be reached for comment, and mail-in ballot data is not published online. Preliminary results for all state and county races Evanstonians voted in can be found here.

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June 30, 2022 at 07:20AM

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