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In Chicago, voter registration lags behind ’08 figures

By Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — With two weeks left to register to vote, the number of people on Chicago’s voting rolls is about 225,000 less than it was by the time registration closed four years ago, election officials said Tuesday.

And it’s going to be tough, if not impossible, to make up the difference, because this election so far lacks the excitement of 2008, when Barack Obama’s historic bid for the nation’s top office energized Chicago voters, said Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Elections.

“I think there was clearly a lot of excitement, at least here in Chicago, around our president, who was from Chicago, that captured the interest of our young voters particularly,” Neal said. “And I don’t think we have seen that same level of enthusiasm yet, though we are starting to see more interest and our registrations have begun to climb. But we still have a large hill to overcome here to get to where we were four years ago.”

Neal made the comments when announcing a new “Electronic Wizard” system through which registration can be launched from a smart phone or tablet. After submitting the information via those devices, a form is mailed back to the applicant, who only has to sign it and return it in the mail.

The elections board also is reaching out to young voters by making it possible to register at City Colleges facilities, and for those who will turn 18 by Election Day, at high schools.

“Our largest group of voters who remain unregistered compared to four years ago are our 34-and-under voters,” Neal said. “So we’ve tried to make an effort to reach out to college students, high school students and our young people through the iPhone app to get registered.”

The push to get younger people registered was devised before numbers revealed that the biggest registration declines were among young people, Neal said. Among the 18- to 34-year-old group, there were more than 138,000 less people registered to vote than four years ago, according to election board figures.

Electronic Wizard registration will run through Monday. The regular registration deadline is Oct. 9.

Neal said “voting procrastinators” can vote in person on the elections board office on 6th floor of 69 W. Washington between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday from Oct. 10 through Nov. 3. Those who register under that “grace period” system must vote right away, he said.

Even with all the options, Neal said it was unlikely that the voter registration gap from four years ago would be closed.

“What happened in 2008 was very, very unusual — almost unprecedented,” Neal said. “Is it impossible? No. Will it require a massive rush to access our registration facilities? Yes. So, all we can do is provide it to the public and hope their interest does increase.”

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