Tuesday: Last day to register to vote
October 4, 2010
BY ESTHER J CEPEDA Sun-Times Columnist
What do these two things have in common:
Rahm Emanuel's official entry into Chicago's mayoral race and the probability of the Bears making it to Super Bowl XLV?
Both topics are taking up space and time in the heads of plenty of people who are eligible to vote in the Nov. 2 election but probably won't because "I didn't know" how/when/where or when the deadline to register was and, of course, "What's the point?"
We all have other things on our minds. I totally get that. I'm personally focused on procuring good Chihuahua-size Halloween costumes. But while watching the posturing of all the would-be Chicago mayors these last few weeks has been tons of fun, that's all anyone with an interest in local politics seems to want to talk about, which means the Nov. 2 elections are being totally eclipsed by next February's election for mayor.
Which is exactly why I blew in a call to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners last week to ask how things are shaping up.
My first conversation was with spokesman Jim Allen.
"It's quiet -- and it's alarmingly quiet," he said. "People have leap-frogged to February. Given the significance of the issues confronting the country right now and the major offices on the ballot, our concern is that too many voters have put November 2nd on the back burner."
My next call went to the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties advocacy organization which, in partnership with the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, has been doing extensive community outreach to get people registered to vote. Spokeswoman Amina Sharif was as struck by the lack of interest as I am.
"I don't understand why people aren't passionate about getting out to vote," she said. "So many major things are happening right now . . . but people are just fed up and it makes them apathetic to vote."
Ali Malik, the council's New American Democracy Project fellow, says he's seeing apathy in neighborhoods across the city -- it's rough out there.
"We know people don't vote in midterm elections like they do for presidential elections," Malik said. "But I'm telling people that for us in the Muslim community it goes far beyond the controversy over the proposed New York City Ground Zero mosque. There is serious Islamophobia going on and we need to vote for people who will represent all voters equally."
Like the council, African-American, Latino and other special interest groups are hitting would-be voters with issues specific to their concerns to get them to register to vote.
So consider yourself informed: Tuesday, is the last day to register to vote. You have to be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 on Election Day and a resident of your precinct 30 days before the election. A simple Google search will yield the city or county website where you can find your nearest voter registration location, and while you're at it, you can learn about grace period voting, early voting and absentee ballot voting, just in case.
As for "What's the point?" Well, politics literally disgust some people, and I completely understand that, too -- some politicians give us plenty of reason to feel disgusted. But that's not a fantastic reason to pass up the opportunity to pick the person you least hate to make decisions on critical issues that will impact you directly.
Langdon D. Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, put it to me this way: "While there's this great interest in who is going to be the next mayor of Chicago, let's not forget the enormity of the offices up in the air in November. You've got the leaders of all branches of government from federal on down. There's the U.S. Senate, the governor, the president of the County Board to state legislative and judicial races -- they will all have an enormous impact in our lives, let's not overlook it."
I couldn't have said it better myself.