This year’s general primary elections in Illinois saw high voter turnout in both Chicago and the Loyola community. Nearly 53 percent of registered voters in Chicago voted on March 15 in the city’s fifth highest turnout since 1944, according to Jim Allen, spokesperson for the Chicago Election Board.
More than 530 of those voters went to Loyola’s Centennial Forum, the voting location for the seventh precinct of the 49th Ward, to fill out a ballot.
An overwhelming majority of voters in Chicago — 710,398 — were registered as Democrats, and there were 88,132 Republican registered voters, according to the city’s unofficial summary report. Additionally, there were 76 nonpartisan voters and 384 for the Green Party, the report stated.
This increased participation is the result of many factors, according to Allen, including a “wide-open race for president” and “high-profile” contest for the Cook County state’s attorney.
The bid for state’s attorney was won by Democrat Kim Foxx, who beat Anita Alvarez for re-election, reported Chicago Tonight. Chicagoans were upset with Alvarez’s delayed charges against the police officer who shot teenager Laquan McDonald. Foxx also beat Democrat Donna More and Republican Christopher E.K. Pfannkuche in the race.
Allen said it was a rare case in which there were more votes for state’s attorney than for U.S. senator.
The close competition between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also drew voters to the primary election, said Allen.
High turnout showed itself on Loyola’s campus as the Centennial Forum drew 456 Democratic voters and 76 Republican voters, according to Allen. He said that although the demographics of voters are unknown until all voter applications come in, it was safe to assume the turnout at Centennial Forum was largely made up of college students.
The large crowd of voters was also likely influenced by Illinois’ same-day voter registration. Many students who missed voting days in their home states were able to register and vote in Chicago.
Freshman Taylor Beck is one student who voted March 15 at the Sovereign Apartments across from Metropolis Cafe. Beck, an 18-year-old from Nebraska opted for same-day registration in Chicago and faced a lengthy wait.
“The line was super long. We waited there for about two and a half hours before finally voting,” said Beck, a theatre and business management double major. “I was more anxious to vote. I was like, ‘I [want to] do it. I want to vote for my person.’ So waiting was … long because I was so excited about it.”
Although convenient for procrastinating voters, same-day registration can cause some confusion. Allen said some voters were given provisional ballots, which are used for voters with questionable eligibility or who are in the wrong precinct. These ballots may or may not be counted depending on if an elected official can confirm the voter’s eligibility.
“We have to look at ways to try to educate more of our voters to do their best to get to their precinct assigned to their home address,” said Allen. “That way, their full ballot will count whether they’re registering on election day or whether they are already registered. Our ultimate goal is to have zero provisional ballots.”
While Allen acknowledged the responsibility of the election board to educate voters, he said part of the responsibility to follow the guidelines lies with voters.
“We had some voters at Centennial Forum … who wrote down on the form, ‘I didn’t have time to get to my real voting place,’” Allen said.
Although perhaps misguided, voter turnout at Centennial Forum was high at 72 percent of total registered voters for the precinct. But has that increased political interest in the Loyola community translated to Loyola’s student government?
This March 22-23 election for Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) saw a turnout of 3,109 student voters, according to the SGLC election board. Out of 11,079 estimated undergraduate students, according to Loyola’s Official Statistics from the Office of Institutional Research, turnout rate is still low, at approximately 28 percent.
Past student government elections have also brought sparse participation, with the 2015 spring election turnout at just 27 percent. In 2014, turnout was 29 percent, or about 2,900 students out of 10,000 — a record high for Loyola.
For sophomore Sean McNelis, newly elected SGLC sophomore representative, voting is an important part of involvement across all political landscapes. McNelis, 19, voted both for the SGLC election and the general primaries in his home state of Michigan.
“I know [voter turnout] is usually lower than we would like it to be,” said McNelis, an environmental science major. “This year’s election board [was] working really hard to promote people to get out there and vote by just being very social media active and getting the name, … the dates and all the scheduling out.”
Sophomore Anna Baxter also voted both in the general primary elections and in the SGLC 2016 election. The communication studies major said she voted in the primaries because she felt informed and wanted to express her distaste for one particular presidential candidate.
However, Baxter, 19, voted for student government because she personally knew a few of the candidates, she explained, and she found the process “easy and quick.”
Loyola students were able to vote for the SGLC election with an electronic ballot that was emailed to students. Upon sending in the ballot, students received coupons for one free drink from Loyola-run businesses Felice’s Kitchen or Ireland’s Pub.