Officials say weather, ‘voter fatigue’ could hurt turnout for Tuesday’s primaries in Waukegan and North ChicagoSteve Sadin
Democratic voters in Waukegan and North Chicago will choose their candidates for mayor of each city, along with nominees for other offices, in Tuesday’s primary election in Lake County.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at 54 locations in Waukegan and North Chicago, with drastically less turnout expected than the 69.37% for the Nov. 3 presidential election, when 80% of the votes were cast before Election Day.
Primary winners will compete against independent and write-in candidates in the April 6 general election when voters choose municipal, township, school board, park district and other officials.
As of Sunday night, Lake County Clerk Robin O’Connor said 333 people had voted early and 159 vote-by-mail ballots were primed for counting. Another 78 mail-in ballots were still outstanding.
Four years ago, in the 2017 Waukegan Democratic mayoral primary, 4,419 people voted with 847 casting early ballots and 700 voting by mail, according to the clerk’s records. Overall turnout was approximately 10%, with 65.1% voting on Election Day. North Chicago did not have a primary.
Though fear of the coronavirus pandemic prompted both voting by mail and early voters to avoid Election Day crowds in the Nov. 3 presidential election, O’Connor said she is uncertain about the turnout Tuesday concentrated in two jurisdictions.
“Voters are getting used to wearing masks, and all the procedures we have in place to keep people safe,” O’Connor said. “Maybe they’re getting more comfortable voting in person. In this election, a lot of people vote Election Day.”
Though early voting started Jan. 14, O’Connor said there was only one location, the Lake County Building in downtown Waukegan. In the past, there were more sites. Other factors could have reduced early and mail voting.
Weather may have kept people away from early voting this year. Sunday was the first time temperatures exceeded 32 degrees since Feb. 4, according to National Weather Service records. Many of those days, temperatures were in single digits or below zero.
Freezing temperatures are not likely to be a problem Tuesday, with a high of 39 forecast by the weather service with a prediction of 37 degrees when polls open.
Though weather is one reason early voting may be down, O’Connor said there are other factors including the intensity of the Nov. 3 election, and optimism about the future with vaccinations now being administered to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s hard to predict,” O’Connor said. “Each election is unique. Weather may be a reason for less early voting. The last election was so exhausting, people may have voter fatigue. People are so close to getting the vaccine, they may want to keep themselves away from danger.
Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham, who was first elected in 2017, faces challenger Miguel Rivera, a city code inspection officer and onetime Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 Board of Education member. Cunningham spent 18 years as the city’s First Ward Alderman before becoming its first Black mayor.
The winner of the Cunningham-Rivera contest faces 9th Ward Alderman Ann Taylor and write-in candidate Calvin Mathis April 6.
Both Cunningham and Rivera both said they had to adjust their campaign strategy because of the pandemic.
“A lot of people don’t want to open the door when you knock,” Rivera said. “When you talk though the door, it’s harder to get your message out.”
Cunningham said neither he nor campaign volunteers knocked on doors. They left campaign literature by voters’ doors, made phone calls and sent mailers communicating the message they wanted voters to learn.
“There was less in-person contact,” Cunningham said. “All the snow did not help when it came to placing signs. It all played a role in how we communicate our message during COVID.”
Four-term North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham is running against former Foss Park District Commissioner Anthony Coleman for the Democratic nomination there. The winner will face independent Charles January in April.
A three-way race for 5th Ward Alderman in North Chicago pits Kenneth Smith, Vickie Brown and Tanya Jarrett against each other for the Democratic nomination. With no other general election candidates, the winner earns the office.
North Chicago’s four-term treasurer, Kenneth Robinson, is running against Vance Wyatt, a former Lake County Board member, for the Democratic nomination to serve as the city’s top financial officer. They serve together on the Foss Park District Board of Commissioners.
The winner takes the office with no general election candidates on the ballot.
Steve Sadin is a freelance reporter.