I-Team Report: The 50 percent factor

February 21, 2011 4:41:07 PM PST
A look at what it will take to win Tuesday's mayoral election and avoid an April run-off.

If the pre-election polling and the turnout projections are correct, Rahm Emanuel would become Chicago's mayor with one quarter of the registered voters in the city of Chicago putting him into Chicago City Hall.

The math goes like this: Tuesday's expected turnout is 50-percent. It takes 50-percent of that to win the mayoral race outright, which means the ticket to City Hall's fifth-floor offices requires just a quarter of the electorate.

When the polls open at 6 a.m., it will be the first time in 64 years that an incumbent mayor has not been on the ballot. But even that chance to change the course of history is not expected to arouse much more than half of the electorate. And neither are the hotly contested ward races that have produced a record number of aldermanic candidates.

"Some of our voters feel a little fatigue. We've had a lot of elections. We've had a lot of special elections. Campaigns' advertising, direct mail all add to, I think, the feeling among our voters that the election is just going to run right into each other," Langdon Neal, Election Board chairman, said.

Tuesday's election could be driven by another set of numbers: tremendous drops in voter registration primarily in South and Southwest Side wards. The 16th Ward has lost the more than 10 percent of its registered voters since the last mayoral election. Meanwhile, the top gaining wards are all on the North and Northwest Side, all of them predominantly white. The statistic that helps explain why Emanuel has drawn such high numbers in pre-election polls of registered voters.

"Tomorrow will be sunny, balmy and a great day for an election," Neal said. He had a special warning for people who cast an absentee ballot that wasn't postmarked by Saturday. Because Monday is Presidents' Day, a federal holiday, anyone who mailed their absentee ballots after Saturday should expect that it will not be postmarked in time to be counted.

If they can, those late absentee voters should go to their polling place Tuesday, sign an affidavit and vote in person, Neal said.

Seventy three thousand early votes were cast citywide, and more than 26,000 absentee ballots were requested. Eighteen thousand absentee ballots have been returned.

Chicago election board spokesman Jim Allen explains the margin required to win Tuesday for mayor and in contested aldermanic races is "50 percent-plus one of the votes."

In a ward contest with 2,000 ballots cast, Allen says if "only 1,800 made a selection for alderman, then 901 votes for candidate a would result in candidate a winning outright."