The Chicago Tribune headline was stark: "Chicago voter registration lowest since 1942."
As of Monday February 13th, about 1.28 million voters were registered in the city, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. That’s lower than in 1942, the first year such numbers were recorded.
In 1942, the population of Chicago was about 3.4 million. Last year, the population was a little less than 2.7 million. Thus, while the number of registered voters in the city is at it's lowest level since records began, the percentage of city residents registered to vote is not as bad.
The numbers that I would be far more interested in is the demographic and political make up of the registered voters. For instance how many men vs. women are registered. What about ethnicity? There is a widely held belief in local political circles that Hispanics tend to neither register nor vote in significant numbers. It is also assumed that black voters are more politically active than other minority communities in Chicago and that Western European whites are more apathetic than those with origins from Eastern European countries.
What about registration by neighborhood? Rogers Park, Andersonville and Albany Park are known as politically active communities. Gresham, Humboldt Park and Austin are not known to be as engaged. I would like to know if registration reflects those stereotypes.
Political affiliation would be nice to see as well. Illinois does not require registered voters to pick a party any more so this number is hard to ascertain. We know that in 2010, the year of the Tea Party revolt, Chicagoans voted 77% - 19% for Democrat Alexi Giannoulias over Republican Mark Kirk in the U.S. Senate race and 75% - 17% for Democrat Pat Quinn over Republican Bill Brady for governor. Thus, we know Chicago is still deep blue territory, but we don't know how many independent voters there are in Chicago.
The city lost more than 200,000 people in a ten year period from 2000 - 2010 according to U.S. Census data, and much of that lose took place on the south side of the city, home to a lot of long time Chicago residents. While there are a lot of new residents to the city, many of them move to the loop area and the near north side. Some of those new resident never change their voter registration, preferring to keep their votes in their states of origin which are often much more competitive than Illinois for national level races. Thus, the registered voting population does not necessarily mirror the actual population living and working here.
I would like more data to find out more about our changing city and the attitudes of voters. Has Chicago become more liberal or more moderate in the past 20 years? Has the reduction in unionized workers had any impact of voter turnout? Are new residents more conservative or more liberal? Are Chicago seniors vastly different in their voting patterns compared to middle age parents?
There are a lot of unanswered questions. One point is clear. Voter turnout for local elections is horrendous.
In the 2010 midterm elections during which Illinois was voting for one of its U.S. Senators, all of its Congressional seats and all state wide Constitutional officers, only 53% of those registered to vote in Chicago did so. That represents about 26% of the total population of the city.
The numbers in city wide elections for Mayor and Alderman in 2011 were far more embarrassing. A mere 42% of registered voters bother to bast a ballot.
And those abysmal turnout numbers are not any better despite the implementation of early voting and absentee voting. How much easier can we make it?
Perhaps the new registration numbers from the Chicago Board of Election represent a more honest assessment of voter engagement in Chicago. Eligible voters are not that interested in registering let along voting.
And you wonder how we end up with a Governor Pat Quinn...