A Crusader Special Report

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One Black ward had a precinct where only 43 out of 481 people voted. Another Black ward always turns up the heat at the polls. No matter how intense the presidential race, voter turnout in most Black wards during the Primary is still a problem. After reviewing 20 years of election data, the Crusader ranks all 18 Black wards

By Erick Johnson

The ballot machines are humming, and the lines are growing. Weeks of early voting have come down to one day. That’s the March 17 Primary.

On the South and West Sides of Chicago reside the city’s powerful Black electorate, consisting of 18 predominantly Black wards that, for decades, have decided fates of mayoral and gubernatorial candidates, and not least, presidential candidates seeking to move into the White HouseBlack wards are registered to vote. That’s 38 percent of 1,581,755 voters in the entire city of Chicago. The percentage of the Black vote was 39 percent in the 2016, 2012 and 2004 general elections, and 40 percent in the 2008 and 2000 general elections. Fourteen Black wards have over 30,000 registered voters.

Historically, voter turnout has been low during the primary. The Crusader reviewed 20 years of election data from five presidential elections and found that in Chicago’s 18 Black wards, voter turnout in the primary averaged just 40 percent, even when those races were intense matches between candidates. When it comes to the Black wards, it’s a different story. The Crusader ranked all 18 wards in three areas of voter turnout: presidential primaries, General Election and overall turnout, which is the combined average presidential and general election.

The Crusader found that during five presidential elections, the 4th Ward dominated in all three areas, while the 5th and 8th Wards reigned near the top of the list, and the 16th, 17th and 28th Wards consistently lag at the bottom.

To many, it’s no surprise that the #1 ward across the board is the 4th Ward, which covers parts of Bronzeville, Kenwood and Hyde Park.

Out of five general elections, the 4th Ward registered the highest voter turnout four times, averaging 81.33 percent. At one precinct in the 2012 general election, where President Barack Obama was running against Senator John McCain, 737 out of 757 registered voters cast their ballot, for a 97.36 percent turnout for that precinct. That meant just 20 people didn’t vote that day.

Overall, voter turnout in the 4th Ward for the five presidential elections averaged 64.9 percent. The 4th Ward was also #1 in voter turnout during primaries, averaging 48.66 percent. The voter population of the 4th Ward has grown from 29,148 in 2000 to 36,315 in 2019, according to the Chicago Board of Elections.

Residents in the 4th Ward are perhaps the most politically active among the 18 Black wards. Toni Preckwinkle is among the Black bourgeoisie.

Ranked #2 on the list is 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston’s ward, which includes parts of Hyde Park, Jackson Park, South Shore and Greater Grand Crossing. In five presidential primaries, the overall voter turnout in the 5th Ward is 62.5 percent, the secondhighest percentage on the list. The 5th Ward averaged 78.8 percent in the five general elections. But in the primaries, the 5th Ward was third with a voter turnout average of 46.19 percent.The ward that took that second-place finish was Alderman Michelle Harris’ 8th Ward, which had a 46.88 percent average voter turnout in five primaries.

The 8th Ward achieved the third-highest overall voter turnout percentage in the past five presidential elections at 60.8 percent.

Rounding out the top 10 wards were the 6th, 29th, 21st, 18th, 34th, 7th and 3rd. Eight of the top 10 Black wards on the list are on the South Side.

At the bottom of the list is the 16th Ward, led by freshman Alderman Stephanie Coleman. It covers Englewood, Gage Park, West Englewood and Chicago Lawn.

The 16th Ward had the lowest voter turnout among the Black wards in all the five presidential primaries in 2016, 2012, 2008, 2004 and 2000. The average voter turnout in the primaries in the 16th Ward is just 46.40 percent. In the 2012 primary, only 14.53 percent, or 2,776 voters, cast their ballots. At one precinct, only 43 of 481 voters cast their ballots.

Out of five general elections, the 16th Ward also had the lowest turnout four times, in 2016, 2012, 2008 and 2000. In 2004, the 16th Ward came within two-tenths of having the lowest turnout than the 24th Ward, which ranked 18th on the list.

Low voter turnout has always been a problem during primaries. Overall, out of the five presidential elections reviewed by the Crusader, only the 2008 primary showed half, or 52.96 percent, of voters going to the polls in the Black wards.The Obama-McCain showdown drew many voters and overwhelmed precincts that weren’t prepared for the long lines.

During the primaries of Obama’s reelection campaign, voter turnout in the Black wards was the lowest of all the primaries, with only 24.79 percent of 486,012 voters casting ballots. Voter turnout in the Black wards in the general election that year was the highest, with 77.70 percent of voters going to the polls to help Obama defeat former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to win his second term in office.

Overall, Chicago’s Black wards in five presidential primaries achieved an average voter turnout of 40.04 percent of registered voters.

In 2000, just 32.03 percent of 530,304 registered voters went to polls to decide the Democratic primary between former Vice President Al Gore and New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley.

In the 2004 Democratic primary, just 41 percent of 508,743 voters in Chicago’s Black wards cast ballots in the race between Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and New Jersey Senator John Edwards.

This year, it’s Biden versus Sanders. There is concern that Biden’s big, comfortable lead on Tuesday, March 10 may cause many Black voters in Chicago to take it easy and stay home on March 17. But there is still much at stake in Chicago with Blacks in important races.

But there is still much at stake in Chicago with Blacks in important races. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is fighting for a second term as angry voters seek to oust her after she dropped charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who allegedly staged a homophobic hate crime in Streeterville in 2019.

Former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin is running to replace Dorothy Brown as Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court.

And three Blacks—Illinois Supreme Court Justice P. Scott Neville, Appellate Court Judge Nathaniel Howse, Jr. and Judge Cynthia Cobbs—are running for a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court, where there is a chance that no judge of color will be on the seven-member bench in 28 years.

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1 COMMENT

  1. The 3rd, 4th and 27th Wards’
    Black population increases can also be attributed to the dismantled, formerly Black ruled (1914-2007) 2nd Ward.

    Jesse Reyes, a Hispanic, is running for Illinois Supreme Court. He is a person of color.

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