Chicago aldermen traditionally wield enormous power in the wards they've been elected to represent, making calls about everything from sidewalk cafe permits to zoning changes. (Then there are those bigger legislative and policy issues that City Council must consider and vote on, and tasks like executive branch oversight aldermen have largely taken a pass on.) Interest groups of all stripes are lining up to endorse candidates, donate money to them, and turn out voters for the 14 City Council positions at stake in tomorrow's run-off election. And yet the turn-out level in the 14 races probably will hover around the "mid-twenties" in terms of percentage participation, according to Chicago Board of Elections Chairman Langdon Neal. If that prediction is realized it will mark a significant drop-off from the 42 percent of registered voters who cast a ballot in the first round of voting in Chicago on Feb. 22. Neal said the total universe of registered voters in the 14 wards whose council members voters will decide tomorrow is approximately 409,000.
Still early voting levels are up; the unofficial early voting tally through April 1 had 18,552 people casting early ballots and 3,077 voters mailing in absentee ballots. That's about double the totals from four years ago, Neal told reporters this morning. The 41st Ward (with 3,769 early voters and absentee ballots returned), the 6th Ward (2,529), the 50th Ward (2,087), and the 36th Ward (2,019) were tops among the 14 in terms of early participation.
The current bunch of run-off council races ties the 14 decided in a second round of voting in 1987 as the second-highest number of run-offs since that earlier date. In 1991, 18 wards were decided in two rounds of voting. The 1995 city election cycle saw 11, and then nine and four races, in 1999 and 2003, respectively, went to run-offs. In 2007 12 races were decided in a second round of voting. Some of the candidates elected in a run-off in 2007, like Alds. Fioretti, Waguespack, and Reilly, departed from voting with Mayor Richard Daley's priorities more often than most during the '07 to '11 council term.
These races are important, in other words. That led Neal to issue this warning today to the 28 campaigns who are gearing up for one last push:
The polls close tomorrow at 7 p.m.