Registering to vote isn’t difficult. In fact, it requires less effort than most governmental processes, like getting a passport or driver’s license. Those take massive amounts of paperwork, time and energy. Registering to vote in Chicago is as easy as filling out and mailing one form.
Yet as of Feb. 20, Chicago’s voter registration is the lowest it’s been since 1942, according to a statement from the Chicago Election Board of Commissioners.
Today, 1.28 million out of approximately 2.6 million Chicago residents are registered to vote. This leaves almost 500,000 eligible voters unaccounted for, according U.S. Census Bureau data.
Admittedly, I am not yet a registered voter in Illinois. When I lived in California, I registered and voted in the 2008 presidential election. But last week, between interviewing a cybergoth and baking a cake for my friend’s birthday, I was able to fill out a voter registration form in the time it takes to microwave a leftover Big Mac. I know because I did just that, although filling out the form was much more satisfying than the crusty cheeseburger. It’s sad that I’m comparing the value of Big Macs to voter registration, but it accurately depicts how Chicagoans and even politicians feel about the 2012 primary election and U.S. politics.
Initially, I was going to handle this issue by berating and bullying apathetic college students into voting. The thought that students and young people are dying across the Middle East for civil liberties and the right to vote while we sit around watching the Blackhawks is sad.
For once, I can’t say I blame my peers. The 2012 GOP campaign trail is nothing short of a train wreck, and President Barack Obama is spending his days at fundraisers, spouting from his 2008 campaign script. Let’s not even mention his disappointing and promotional State of the Union address. The words “hope” and “change” can only inspire for so long.
Votes have become commodities to politicians, including our president. Not one of the GOP candidates has gone a week of this campaign without pointing a finger at another. And since when is building a base on the moon a good use of taxpayer money? Investing $1.8 billion in space innovation, as Gingrich wants, is not the most realistic plan for the next four years. After all, we are recovering from a crippling recession and multi-billion dollar war. Perhaps it’s time U.S. politicians get a wake-up call.
If presidential candidates want votes, they will benefit from having a genuine interest in voters’ well-being instead of lazily connecting to an audience by appealing to demographics.
Rick Santorum is trying so hard to win the conservative Evangelical vote that he is completely alienating women, while Mitt Romney is sucking up to middle America. Guess what, Mitt: After saying you “aren’t concerned about the very poor,” you shouldn’t brag about paying a 15 percent tax rate. No cookies for you from us little people.
Even before this lackluster campaign, voter registration in Chicago has been gradually decreasing since the late 1980s, according to the CBEC. In 1988, approximately 1.5 million people registered to vote in the presidential primaries. By March 2000, that number was down to 1.38 million. Voter apathy, in this case, may truly be generational—at least in Chicago. But power shifts each generation, and I still have hope that my peers want to be politically active members of society. Chicago is, after all, one city in a nation of thousands.
In fact, just outside the city proper in the town of Evanston, voter registration experienced a dramatic increase of 25 percent so far this year. Each new registered voter is a U.S. citizen deciding to make a serious change.
It’s time U.S. politicians do the same.