Suburban Cook County polling places saw a record-breaking low turnout in last week’s election, but according to data obtained from the Cook County Clerk, more Forest Parkers turned out to vote than in recent municipal election years.
Only 16.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots in suburban Cook County this year, but nearly 35 percent of Forest Parkers voted.
By and large, countywide participation has declined over the past eight years. In 2003, 22 percent of voters showed up; there was a spike in 2005, with 26 percent participating, but the turnout has been steadily declining since.
“It could be voter fatigue, but it’s hard to say,” said Commissioner Rory Hoskins, when asked what he attributed the low turnout to.Ê
The 35 percent turnout has remained steady in Forest Park in the last two municipal elections, and it’s a jump of seven percentage points from the 28 percent who voted in 2003.Ê
The results are not official yet, though, because some of the absentee ballots are still coming in.
The number of registered voters has also fluctuated over the years, and there are currently 700 more registered voters in the village than there were seven years ago.
There were only 102 more ballots cast this year than in 2007; but between 2003 and 2007, that number increased by 666.
“People want to get involved,” said Commissioner Mark Hosty, “and that’s great.”
Eleven candidates crowded the field for commissioner this year, because, in previous years, there was a primary to whittle it down to eight. More candidates on the ballot could have contributed to an increased number of voters coming out to support their candidates. Since 2003, the number of total votes in the commissioner race has increased by 63 percent.
Newly elected commissioner Tom Mannix says that when races are as contested as they were this year, the candidates are doing their best to bring their friends and neighbors and supporters to the polls.
In the mayoral election, there were more total votes cast than the past two elections. In 1999, when Mayor Anthony Calderone was first elected, 2,947 people voted in the race between him and incumbent Mayor Lorraine Popelka. Calderone won with 55.6 percent of the vote.
Though the next mayoral election in 2003 was uncontested, Calderone received 132 fewer votes than he did in 1999. The uncontested election only brought 28 percent of registered voters to the polling places that year. The next contested election was in 2007, where just over 34 percent of voters came out. The number of votes for mayor has only fluctuated by about 100 votes in the elections since 1999, despite the overall increase in turnout.
While the number of ballots cast has increased and there are more registered voters in the area, participation in the village government is still low in comparison to the population. A little over half of Forest Park’s population is registered to vote. And of that half registered to vote, a little more than three out of 10 came out to vote in last Tuesday’s election.
A problem that Mannix saw this year was that there was no early voting center at village hall. The nearest center was in Oak Park. He believes that allowing citizens to vote early while doing business with the village could have improved the turnout.
Mannix said early voting accounts for an average of 15 to 20 percent of voting in Illinois. Less than 10 percent of Forest Park’s votes were cast early in this year’s election. This is an issue he intends to work on with Cook County Clerk David Orr.
While Hosty, who has spent twelve years on the board, acknowledges the increase, he says it’s more of a blip than anything. “I still think it’s disgustingly small,” he says. “In other countries, you hear about people getting killed for the right to vote.”