Back at the ballot box again

By Heather McGraw

Young adults in Chicago have grown up with Mayor Richard M. Daley as a household name. But on Feb. 22, they finally had the chance to elect someone else.

Preliminary voter turnout data in the recent municipal election suggests a larger youth vote than in previous years. However, precise demographic data is not yet available to confirm this.

Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago board of elections commissioners, said specific demographics for wards that will have a runoff election in April will probably be out in the next two to three weeks. Wards where elections were finalized will likely not see their demographic information for another five weeks, according to Allen.

The Lakeview neighborhood, which stretches into the 44th Ward—Chicago’s most youth-populated ward—saw 13,089 ballots cast, roughly twice the number cast in the 2007 election, when the count was 6,669.

The increase in turnout for the ward, much greater than the 8.6 percent increase for the overall city, could be due to the nature of the elections, according to Eric Zoberman, field director for Rock the Vote, a 20-year-old organization with a primary goal of educating and registering young voters.

“A lot of the energy, enthusiasm and appreciation for just how important of a race this was was out there,”

Zoberman said.

According to him, the national organization’s main role was educating young voters on exactly what was at stake for them in this election.

“On a superficial level, we’re going to be around a lot longer,” Zoberman said. “On a more direct level, every piece of legislation out there—whether it’s social security meant for senior citizens or child development meant for infants—it’s all going to affect most young people one day.”

He said a possible reason for a higher youth turnout was because Daley was “their parents’ guy.” This election finally gave them the chance to elect their own candidate.

It is likely the turnout increase was higher among young people than older generations, according to Zoberman.

Molly Andolina, associate professor of political science at DePaul University, said the youth vote always trailed the older adult population.

“There’s a clear connection between age and [the] likelihood of going to the polls,” Andolina said. “Starting in about the mid 1980s, the gap between young people and older people began to grow, so it was more than just a phenomenon associated with youth.”

According to her, an increase in youth turnout is the result of committed organizations engaging and educating young people on the importance of politics.

“There’s a lot of evidence to show if you do make these peer to peer authentic reach-outs to young people, they’ll respond to it,” Andolina said.

The mayoral race was similar to another historical election in Chicago, according to Dick Simpson, head of the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He said the campaign staff of former Mayor Harold Washington—whose 1983 election saw an extremely high youth turnout—largely comprised young adults.

“There were a number of young people working in the campaigns [of most of the candidates in this election],” Simpson said. “There were more youth working, which may have helped.”

Zoberman said Rock the Vote would not have accomplished anything without the help of volunteers and organizations like Chicago Votes and Chicago After Daley. The collaborative efforts allowed youth to get involved in the election and hold a candidate forum on Feb. 17.

Zoberman said it is important for young voters to remain involved.

“If we want our issues addressed, we have to get out to the polls and let the candidates know we’re paying attention,” he said.