Why so few Illinois voters cast ballots in Tuesday's primary

Moving the date, a lack of contested races and a traditionally apathetic midterm voting base are some of the reasons election experts believe turnout was so low for Tuesday's primary election.

When the votes are certified by the Illinois State Board of Elections late next month, officials believe fewer than 20% of the state's registered voters will have cast ballots.

As of Wednesday evening, 94.6% of the state's ballots had been counted, according to The Associated Press. Nearly 1.6 million votes have been counted in both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries out of 8,083,239 registered voters. That's less than 19.8% of all voters.

While not as low as the 2014 primary's 18.1% voter turnout, it would still only be the second time since at least 1978 that fewer than 20% of Illinois' voters cast ballots in a primary.

"Generally speaking, there wasn't much on the ballot," said Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman and current University of Illinois-Chicago political science professor. "And additionally there was the date change from March, so some people just didn't realize there was a vote."

In the suburbs, only DuPage County reported more than 20% voter turnout, according to unofficial results on the county clerk's website.

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough is still reporting one uncounted precinct late Wednesday, but just 19.1% of suburban Cook County voters cast ballots, according to her website.

Unofficial results show voter turnout in McHenry County at 19.4%, 18.2% in Kane County and 18.7% in Will County.

"We've still got some mail-in ballots to be counted, so we may get to 18%," said Lake County Clerk Robin O'Connor. "We advertised and promoted the primary as best we could, and we'd hoped we'd have more in-person voting because it was a beautiful day to vote yesterday."

Lake County currently has the lowest voter turnout in the suburbs at 17.9%. However, in 2014, Lake was also lowest in the suburbs at just 14.1%.

The move to a summertime primary was supposed to encourage more voting because there would be less chance that weather would keep people from the polls.

"I've never been convinced moving a primary to summer results in more voting," said Brian Gaines, a professor of political science at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois-Urbana. "Anytime you change the timing of something it just throws people off their habits."

Illinois Democratic officials have flirted with the idea of moving the 2024 primary to February to be one of the first presidential primaries that year.

"That might have a different outcome than we saw Tuesday because all the attention of the nation will be on us then," Simpson said.

Election experts believe when all votes are tallied from Tuesday's primary, fewer than 20% of Illinois voters will have cast ballots. Daily Herald File Photo/2007
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