What's behind Chicago's large early voting turnout and city council change-ups?

ByKay Cesinger WLS logo
Sunday, February 26, 2023
Our Chicago Part 1: Large early voting turnout, city council changes
Ahead of Election Day, experts discussed what could be behind large early voting turnout for the Chicago mayoral race and city council races.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- On Tuesday, voters will make their pick for who should lead the city of Chicago for the next four years.

In the race for mayor, incumbent Lori Lightfoot has eight challengers. And, it's likely this contest will not be settled until a runoff in April.

There's been a large turnout for early voting. Better Government Association Policy Director Bryan Zarou explained what might be the reason people have been so eager to vote.

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"For the first time in the municipal election you have vote by mail which is very popular now. It's been heavily utilized," Zarou said. "We also have one of the largest turnover rates in modern history with 15 open seats in the city council. There are more contested seats, but 15 people not coming back. And, also, crime is a big issue with new police council districts that are being voted on, newly elected people for those, all that together mixed in is a recipe for higher turnout."

The election also comes three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had an economic impact on the city. And, in the summer of 2020, there was civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd. ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington said those factors are all contributing to where we are in the city.

"If you look at the polls, there's a deep dissatisfaction with the condition of the city, with issues like safety, the economy, and I think that's playing out here," Washington said. "Mayor Lightfoot did not create COVID, but she's got to wear the jacket in terms of how she responds and how hard she works and how successful she is getting the city back on track."

WATCH: Our Chicago Part 2

On Tuesday, voters will make their pick for who should lead the city of Chicago for the next four years.

As for who could make the runoff, polling shows Paul Vallas as the frontrunner. But, the race for second place could take a while to decide, as mail in ballots are counted.

Whoever wins the mayoral race, they'll be working with a very different Chicago City Council. Nearly one third of the incumbents are leaving, either retiring, taking other jobs, or, in the case of Roderick Sawyer and Sophia King, running for mayor.

Among those leaving are longtime council members, including, Ed Burke, Tom Tunney and Carrie Austin.

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"We're losing a lot of institutional political knowledge when these aldermen depart. There's going to be a lot of freshmen aldermen. There's going to be a lot of inexperienced politicians, regardless of who wins some of these ward races. So, there's going to be a huge learning curve and if we end up with a different mayor, or even if we end up with the one we have there's going to be sort of a dance, and a period of time when everyone's going to be learning," said Washington. "But, on the other side, there's been a bigger and bigger push to move the council to the left. In the last couple of elections, we've seen many more progressive aldermen get elected to city council and you've got a lot of races out there right now that have socialists, people who call themselves progressive reformers who are in the mix. So, I think that the ideological balance is going to change. Just, how much? So, I think we'll have to wait and see."

"I think the new city council's going to be more legislatively active," Zarou added. "Ward services are obviously going to be a big part of city council, but I think this new progressive push that's been coming out of city council, if that happens, you're going to see a lot of, a lot more independency."