Bucking Chicago trend, Evanston sees increased voter registration

Alexandria Johnson

The chairman of the The Chicago Election Board of Commissioners called for a “voter registration drill” earlier this week, encouraging citizens to check their registration status by Tuesday’s deadline to vote in the March 20 presidential primary election.

The Chicago Election Board reported a drop in registered Chicago voters, examining registration numbers for the presidential primary, which is currently at an all-time record low since the 1940s. But in Evanston, city clerk Rodney Greene said there has been a 25 percent increase in new voter registration this year. About 83 new voters have been registered in 2012, Greene said.

Jim Allen, spokesperson for the Chicago Election Board, said the city’s normal activities to cleanse the rolls have contributed to the city’s decrease to 1.28 million registered voters as of Monday. He also said the data can be attributed to the lack of registered young voters in the 18 to 24-year-old range – the most mobile population.

There are an estimated 1.7 million 18-year-olds in the United States who are not yet registered to vote, Allen added.

“It’s hard to target a population that you know is out there – you just don’t know where exactly they are,” Allen said. “This year with the top of the ballot uncontested, there simply isn’t the same enthusiasm we saw four years ago.”

Cook County clerk David Orr said the number of registered voters in the suburbs has increased. But in Chicago, registration records are much more accurate than they were about 25 years ago, he said. The population of the city is also smaller than it was a decade ago, he added.

“Realistically, there’s about the same number of voters in Chicago as there was before if you factor in those two points,” Orr told The Daily on Thursday.

Orr said the voter registration system in the United States is lacking in comparison to other countries. In the United States, he said, political party members often only want to register voters who associate with their own party.

“There’s been movement by certain politicos, and I’m not going to put it all on one party, to basically try to make it more difficult for people to vote,” Orr said. “That’s always been the case in this country. There’s always some that really want to deprive people the right to vote. That’s actually a major factor in this upcoming election.”

Orr said ideally the government needs to play a larger role in registering Americans once they become eligible to vote.

“When it comes to registration, if I had my way, we’d be moving to what I call universal voter registration to make it easier for everyone to be on the rolls when they turn 18,” Orr said.

Greene, who coordinates voter registration in Evanston, said the responsibility ultimately falls on the voter to turn out at the polls.

“If you don’t use your right to vote, when your person doesn’t get in, don’t come crying or saying something should’ve been done because you didn’t exercise your right to vote,” Greene said. “People need to get out and do that.”

Greene said he has particularly seen an increase in registration from residents who have just turned 18 years old, adding Northwestern students have also made the effort.

“I would like to see everyone who’s registered come and vote,” Greene said. “It’s an opportunity to really become active in an election, any election.”

Mary Morris, voter registration chairperson for the League of Women Voters in Evanston, said she was registering voters at the North Shore Retirement Hotel, 1611 Chicago Ave., on Wednesday. She noted those residents recognize the importance of voting.

“The percentage of voters is not as high as I’d like to see it obviously,” said Morris, a former Evanston city clerk of 12 years. “I’d like to see everybody who is going to be 18 by March 21, making sure they’re registered to vote and come to the polls and vote and participate.”

SESP junior Becca Portman, staff coordinator for NU Votes, said the organization registered about 1,000 students to vote at Wildcard registration during Wildcat Welcome, and on Feb. 1 the group and the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha registered 40 people in four hours during a registration drive.

“Up until NU Votes, I’d never see students excited about voting,” Portman said. “For the most part, people here weren’t interested or didn’t have the time.”

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Graphic by Juju Kim.