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The bright spot in those lousy March voter turnout numbers? Teens

Updated: May 7, 2014 6:35PM



The March election set a record for low voter turnout in a primary, with about 16 percent of all registered voters casting ballots across Cook County.

But one bright spot in the otherwise dismal measure of civic engagement was found among newly-registered young voters, according to a study released Wednesday by a consortium of local elections officials and civic groups.

The study, titled “Voting Early and Often,” found a higher percentage of registered 17- and 18-year-olds voted than did registered voters in many older age groups.

The study analyzed participation by those who are registered to vote, breaking down the statistics by gender and age; it did not take into account the number of youth who are eligible, but have not registered.

In Chicago, 18.5 percent of registered 17-year-old girls cast ballots in March, according to the study. Meanwhile, roughly 15 percent of registered 17-year-old boys cast ballots in the city.

In contrast, registered Chicago voters between the ages of 20 and 48 all turned out to the polls at lower rates, according to the study.

Statistics for suburban Cook County weren’t included in the report, but officials said they were comparable to the city, said Mark Mesle, the outreach coordinator for Cook County Clerk David Orr.

Data shows 18-year-olds cast ballots at a lower rate than 17-year-olds. But a sharp drop-off in participation occurs when a voter turns 20, according to the study.

“There is a significant fall-off when voters turn 20, when they are most likely to be moving between school, new jobs, and different rental situations,” said Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Election Board.

Historically, young voters have not taken to the polls as much as older members of the electorate.

The higher turnout among the youngest voters may have something to do with a new state law, passed in March, allowing 17-year-olds to cast a primary ballot, so long as they turn 18 by the November general election.

A get-out-the-vote effort, launched at high schools across the county, registered nearly 14,000 17- and 18-year-olds, officials said.

While voter participation in the recent primary may have been abysmal across the board, but enthusiasm amongst newly-enfranchised high school students appears to have sent them to the polls, Neal said.

“What we were surprised about is that newly-registered 17-year-olds actually had participation rates that were higher than most people their parents’ age,” Neal said, adding that the earlier people cast a ballot, the more likely they are to continue voting in the future.

Email: bslodysko@suntimes.com

Twitter: @BrianSlodysko



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