Five days out from Tuesday’s primary election, more than 90,000 mail-in ballots in Chicago still need to be returned

As Tuesday’s primary day draws near, Chicago election officials are banking on a late surge in voters to boost dismal turnout, and in the meantime implored Chicagoans to vote early and return tens of thousands of mail-in ballots still sitting on kitchen counters.

Turnout in midterm elections has historically been lower than in years when there’s a presidential race on the ballot. In all, between early and mail-in votes, roughly 61,000 ballots have been cast so far, according to the Chicago Board of Elections. That represents 4% of the 1.5 million registered voters in Chicago.

This year’s primary date is the latest since the Great Depression. The shift from its usual March date to June 28 has complicated the work of election officials and candidates who are urging voters to the polls. Officials are hoping at least to match the turnout in Chicago in the March 2018 primary of nearly 33%.

The total number of early votes cast in person stands at 25,215, board chair Marisel Hernandez told reporters at the city’s early voting super site in the Loop at 191 N. Clark St. “We would like to see that rate improve by Monday.” The “super site” is one of 51 in-person sites open ahead of Election Day on Tuesday where any voter can cast their ballot, regardless of where they live.

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Mail ballots — which have seen a surge in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic began — are likely to make up a larger chunk of the vote total than they did in 2018, Hernandez said.

“Although early voting numbers are down, mail ballot numbers are far up for a midterm election. In 2018, we had almost 40,000 vote by mail ballots returned” in total, Hernandez said. This year, the board has received nearly 124,000 applications to vote by mail. More than 31,000 have already been returned, and more than 90,000 ballots have been requested but not yet returned.

At this time in 2018, there were 55,257 early and mail ballots cast. In 2014, that number was 22,378.

Hernandez urged mail voters to send their completed ballots back “no later than today,” but warned “there is no guarantee that at this point it will be postmarked by June 28th,” and instead urged people to drop those completed ballots in secure boxes at early voting sites or at the Board of Elections’ offices at 69 W. Washington.

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