Will black voters pull out of a registration slump?

Will black voters pull out of a registration slump?
Creative Commons photo by Charel Flickr user Charleston's TheDigitel

Voter registration numbers released by the Chicago Board of Elections last week show that civic participation in the city has hit a new low.

For almost 28 years now, the number of Chicagoans signed up to vote in presidential primaries has been in a slow decline. What's new this year is the steep drop in voter registration numbers among African American adults. Registration in all majority black wards is down, on average, by 7 percent compared with the 2008 primaries, a Reporter analysis of elections data found.  Citywide, registration is also down but by far less--only 2.2 percent.

The largest declines were realized in just 12 majority black wards. Check out the rankings and ward demographics for those wards, which was compiled by the Chicago Board of Elections and Election Data Services, Inc.:

1. -16% (24th Ward; 89.48% black)

2. -14.4% (5th Ward; 71.19% black)

3. -13.6% (16th Ward; 57.63% black)

4. -13.4% (20th Ward; 72.18% black)

5. -12.9% (17th Ward; 97.42% black)

6. -12.8 percent (28th Ward; 84.05 percent black)

7. -12 percent (15th Ward; 63.1 percent black)

8. -11.9 percent (7th Ward; 91.63 percent black)

9. -10.7 percent (4th Ward; 68.17 percent black)

10. -9.5 percent (3rd Ward; 75.75 percent black)

11. -9 percent (9th Ward; 92.42 percent black)

12. -8.8 percent (8th Ward; 96.99 percent black)

Mark Allen, a veteran political activist with a history of working in the city's black communities, thinks the declines likely reflect the present scarcity of full-time voter registration and education programs in those wards. Many of the programs have been downsized or eliminated due to reduced funding, he said.

"A lot of our established groups that used to be the vanguards, like the Urban League and Operation P.U.S.H., they no longer have voter registration budgets," Allen said. "In the black community--its business community, its philanthropic community--nobody has put any money into voter registration and civic education."

"I'm disappointed," he added.

Elsewhere, voter registration in wards where the Latino population has grown in recent years accounts for some of the largest increases by percent in 2012 compared with 2008.

In the 14th Ward, which is now 84 percent Latino, registration soared by 24.9 percent--the largest increase, citywide. In the nearby 13th Ward, which is 65 percent Latino, registration jumped by 17.1 percent, the second highest in Chicago.

This is due, in large part, to the grassroots efforts of Latino activist groups in Chicago, Allen said. In his eyes, the political organizers working in black communities should take a page from the book of their Latino counterparts.

"An educated voter becomes a registered voter," he said. "You take MALDEF [Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund], they systematically continue to raise money to register and educate communities in a way that the black community has not."

Overall, though,voter registration in Latino wards is only up by 2 percent and several wards saw little to no increases in registration, or even declines, the Reporter found.

What's more, the actual number of registered voters in each of the city's black, Latino and white wards is a mixed bag.

The bottom line is that, despite a few fairly small increases at the ward level, voter participation throughout Chicago continues to chronically decrease. And Jim Allen, spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Elections, doesn't think much will change before the deadline to register, on Feb. 21.

"Unless the city goes 50/50 [in voting for Republicans and Democrats] and there’s an intense interest in the Republican primary, I don’t see much changing," he said.

In a deep blue town like Chicago, this is unlikely.

Mark Allen is hopeful that registration numbers will soon climb, though. Operation P.U.S.H. will be stepping up efforts to register voters at CTA trains on the South and West sides next week. "We'll be out there saying, 'Hey, this is the last day; this is your day,'" he said.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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