Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Guest post: Sean Tenner analyzes the primary results

Today I turn the microphone over to 46th Ward Committeeman Sean Tenner for his take on the primary election that, believe it or not, took place only one week ago.

This was truly an election unlike any other, and I appreciate Jack’s willingness to allow me to share a few thoughts, trends and lessons I observed from this most unique of campaign cycles.

Even in these challenging times, I am still inherently an optimist when it comes to elections. While campaigns get heated and elections are by their very nature adversarial, in the end it is the voters themselves that decide every race from the White House to the Court House. And in this 2020 primary election, even non-stop news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic didn’t deter approximately one million Cook County voters from casting their ballots.

Total Cook county turnout (City and suburbs, including GOP primary voters) stands at 941,744 as of this writing. However, estimates show approximately 80,000 vote-by-mail ballots may still await counting by the Election Boards, which have postponed processing them for public health reasons until at least April 6th.

To put this in perspective, let us consider that Cook County’s 2020 Democratic Primary turnout was significantly higher, even in the middle of a pandemic, than in the hard-fought 2018 gubernatorial primary. It did not reach – nor should anyone have expected it to reach – the levels of the 2016 Illinois Democratic Primary which came on the heels of Senator Bernie Sanders’ stunning upset win in the Michigan Primary (March 8, 2016) and a significantly tighter presidential nominating contest overall.

We must not forget that Hillary Clinton was not declared the delegate winner and presumptive nominee until June 6th, 2016. Conversely, this year I believe both Biden and Sanders supporters would agree that since Super Tuesday the media narrative has not portrayed the presidential race as truly competitive anymore.

So why, despite a frightening pandemic and a presidential race that the media portrayed as over, did approximately one million Cook County voters participate in the election?

As often in Democratic politics, the answer can often be found in the absolutely inspiring commitment of African-Americans to vote despite any obstacle that is put in their way. As I looked at strong early vote numbers coming in from African-American wards and townships in the lead-up to this primary election day, I thought back to powerful images of African-American voters in major cities standing in line for several hours to vote for President Obama or to participate in other historic elections.* And I thought back to the images of the civil rights movement when African-Americans risked and gave their lives for the right to vote. I also thought of the 2017 Alabama special U.S. Senate election (where I had the honor of campaigning against Roy Moore in his hometown of Gadsden on Election Day) -– which Democrats only won because of an astonishing 98% share of the vote from African-American women.

After everything African-American voters have had to put up with over the years, there was just no way consistent voters were going to sit this one out – not with so much on the line.** The Kim Foxx race was of paramount importance as was, of course, the choice of a nominee to take on President Trump.

Consider the suburban townships with the highest voter turnout percentages in the Democratic Primary. Oak Park (#1) and Evanston (#2) have significant African-American populations, along with a deep culture of civic engagement overall, with majority African-American Rich Township (#3), Proviso Township (#7), Calumet Township (#8), and Thornton Township (#9) close behind.

When we look at raw vote totals, the importance and strength of African-American voters becomes even more clear. Predominantly African-American Thornton Township cast the highest number of Democratic votes of any township or ward with 29,021. A close second was majority African-American Proviso Township at 27,604.

Looking at the City of Chicago, I am struck by the high turnouts in the majority African-American 4th (13,601 votes) and 5th (11,714 votes) wards. By the time vote-by-mail ballots are counted, both will likely have exceeded 40% turnout. Both may be among the top 5 turnout wards in Chicago. Two other north side wards likely to end up in or near the ‘top five’ also include significant numbers of African-American voters. These are the 48th ward (13,932 votes), which includes Edgewater, and my home 46th Ward (12,604 votes), which includes Uptown.

What did this mean for judicial races? African-American women did exceptionally well. Both female African-American Judges slated countywide –- Judge Sheree Henry and Judge Celestia Mays -– won. Kim Foxx won over 50% of the vote in a very strong showing –- though nearly every expert predicted a much closer race. Kim Neely Dubuclet, the only African-American woman running for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, was the clear top vote-getter in a field of 10. African-American Circuit Judge Sharon Johnson defeated slated Appellate Court Justice John Griffin and African-American Tiesha Smith, who was not slated, won the countywide Bellows vacancy.

At the top of the judicial ticket, Justice P. Scott Neville beat six other candidates –- including many who spent significantly -- in a hard-fought campaign and will remain Illinois’ only African-American Supreme Court Justice.

But these candidates were not the only winners on election day. The thousands of Election Judges and election support staff who worked 14+ straight hours on election day to ensure the right and ability of people to vote, in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, are true heroes. Everyone who ran, volunteered or voted is to be commended for doing their part for democracy in this most challenging of election cycles.


* Of course, no one should have to wait in line for hours to vote. Voter suppression -– and a lack of adequate funding for the running of elections nationwide -- is a very serious problem which needs to be addressed. But we will save that for another article.

** It is also worth noting that times of great tragedy and crisis often increase –- rather than decrease –- the propensity of people to vote, as voters realize the impact of government (both good and bad) to their lives. The 2011 study “Flooding the Vote: Hurricane Katrina and Voter Participation in New Orleans,” by Betsy Sinclair, Thad E. Hall and R. Michael Alvarez showed that “registered voters who experienced more than six feet of flooding were more likely to participate in the election than those who experienced less flooding.” In a similar vein, New York City voter participation surged dramatically in the municipal elections held after the September 11th, 2001 (itself an election day) terrorist attacks.


Anonymous said...

Latina candidates did pretty well too, both on the judicial and non-judicial ballot.

Sean Tenner said...

Yes indeed, I was thinking of doing an analysis on that once all the mail-in ballots are counted / finalized. Judge Teresa Molina won the biggest countywide judicial landslide in the County!

Albert said...

Unfortunately the premise here isn’t correct at all—there was no turnout surge unique to black voters, or anyone else. The twenty-one black-majority wards and townships contributed roughly 26 percent of the total Democratic vote, based on current figures. In 2018 they contributed 27 percent, and their average across 2012-2018 (under the current ward map) was 32 percent. So no this election was not disproportionately influenced by any one particular group. I’ll try to prepare a graphic or two that shows the racial/ethnic balance more fully.

Anonymous said...

Misinformation fed by paradigm-influenced anecdotes. Unfit to be called analysis.

Anonymous said...

I hope, one day, we can live by Dr. King's "... content of character, not color of skin...".😃

Sean Tenner said...

The big data points we still need to see, before the books are closed on Illinois' 2020 Democratic Primary, is mail in ballots (both in the City and the Suburbs - up to 80,000).

And of course ballots of any kind are secret so we don't know exactly how any African-American voter, Latinx voter or white voter voted individually -- we go on previous census results, results from prior elections and general makeup of neighborhoods. None of those are perfect (or entirely up to date) as no precinct, ward or township is completely homogeneous.

That being said, we heard some pretty catastrophic predictions about how desperately low turnout would be in this election (for obvious reasons) -- even up to the very close of the polls on election day. It was not a 'surge' election by any means - but, in my view, deeply impressive that 1 million came out in Cook County given the circumstances.

I heard many predict that African-American turnout would be very low, that seniors wouldn't come out, that African-American seniors wouldn't come out, etc. Many also pointed to demographers' figures about African-American population loss in Cook County. A December 30, 2019 article by Manny Ramos of the Chicago Sun-Times / Report for America notes a recent loss of over 75,000 African-American residents from Cook County (5.8%).

Yet, if these numbers hold, Thornton Township rose from being the 11th highest turnout % township in the last primary to being the 9th highest. Proviso rose from being the 8th highest turnout % in the last election to being the 7th highest. The 4th ward rose from being the 5th highest turnout % in the last election to the 4th highest. Thornton and Proviso continue to be, far and away, the leaders in raw Democratic votes. Of course, hats off as always to Oak Park and Evanston (#1 and #2 in turnout respectively) which are both diverse and deeply engaged in civic affairs.

I'm of course interested and open minded in what the final, certified results show. But all million Cook County residents who cast ballots are truly to be commended.

Sean Tenner said...

As per Capitol Fax, new numbers from mail in ballots show city turnout has increased to 37.18 percent, it was reported at 32.62 a few days after the primary, and about 35% in a Sun-Times article yesterday.