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Voter registration sets record in Cook County

Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Chicago Defender
by Wendell Hutson

Cook County recorded an all-time high of registered voters this year, in part because of the upcoming presidential election between Democrat Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain.
"The hot, presidential election is directly tied to the surge of voters who registered for next month's election," said Cook County Clerk David Orr, whose office oversees voter registration for suburban Cook County. "So far we are at 1.403 million registered voters, a new record. The previous record was 1.4 million, which I believe was in 1992 when Bill Clinton first ran for president."
And while race is not identified on registration cards, Orr said he is seeing a lot of new voters from traditional minority areas.
"A lot of deputy registrars this year were minorities, and they brought in registration cards from minority communities in the bundles," Orr said. "As far as age, I would estimate that 40 percent of the new registered voters are age 25 and under. So there's much interest in the election from young voters."
Many high schools this year will excuse students age 16 and older from class so they can work as election judges at polling places.
"It's a good learning experience for students to see firsthand how we elect our political leaders," said Arthur Reliford, principal at Hales Franciscan, an all-male high school on the South Side. "We try to expose our students to as many events affecting their lives as possible."
One community activist's concern is whether people will actually come out to vote.
"It's one thing to register, and it's another thing to actually show up and vote," said Leonardo Gilbert, pastor of Sheldon Heights Church of Christ, 11325 S. Halsted St., which is a polling place in the 34th Ward. "My hope is that when I open the church doors Nov. 4 that there be a line of people waiting to get in to vote."
Orr said he expects voter turnout to be at least 80 percent.
The Board of Elections Commissioners oversees voter registration in Chicago.
Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Board of Elections, said final numbers are not complete yet, but he expects record voter registration of over 1.4 million, the current record. In the final week of registration, Allen estimates that 50,000 new voters registered.
"There has never been anything like this as far as a one-week rush goes," Allen said. "Voters seem anxious to register this year because so much is at stake."
In January, 31,000 people had registered to vote in the primary election during the last week of registration.
And even though the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election has passed, a grace period is currently in effect until 5 p.m. Oct. 21. If you register by that date, you must also be prepared to cast your vote.
Orr reminded voters that they could be prevented from voting if they wear anything showing a candidate's name or face.
"State law prohibits that kind of behavior from existing at polling places," he said. "If a person shows up with paraphernalia on, they will be asked to remove it. If they refuse or are unable to do so, they will be asked to leave until they comply."


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