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

Election judges wait for the next voter to check in as voting booths remain idle during a slow period on election day Tuesday, June 28, 2022, at the polling place in Westminster Presbyterian Church in DeKalb.

A new 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 later this 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. Almost 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.

Although not as low as the 2014 primary’s 18.1% voter turnout, it still would 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 at 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.

Only 19.2% of suburban Cook County voters cast ballots, according to the Cook County Clerk’s Office.

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

“We’ve still got some mail-in ballots to be counted, so we may get to 18%,” Lake County Clerk Robin O’Connor said. “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 [Tuesday].”

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 of a chance that the 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 at Urbana-Champaign. “Anytime you change the timing of something it just throws people off their habits.”

Democratic Illinois officials have flirted with the idea of moving the 2024 primary to February so it is 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.