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Commissioners Langdon D. Neal, Chairman Richard A. Cowen, Secretary/Commissioner Marisel A.

Hernandez, Commissioner Lance Gough, Executive Director

For Immediate Release September 15, 2011

For information, Jim Allen 312-269-7857

How to increase registrations and turnouts?

Community Forum: Let Voters Register on Election Day, Let Voters Cast Ballots Outside Home Precincts
More than 130 leaders of business, civic, community and student groups from across the city told the Chicago Election Board Thursday to pursue a wide range of election reforms, including letting voters register online or register on Election Day, letting people use universal vote centers outside their home precincts, and employing new technology, such as online voting for military/overseas voters. Those were just some of the recommendations that emerged from a Community Forum sponsored by the Board of Election Commissioners as part of its Voter Engagement 2012 initiative. The goal of the project is to identify measures that will increase voter registration and turnouts for 2012 and beyond. Other ideas that emerged ranged from promoting the concept that its cool to vote to requiring U.S. citizens to register to vote as a condition of receiving their high school diplomas. Today, we received valuable information from civic, community and student leaders about how to address our core mission: to register voters and get people to participate in the elections, said Langdon D. Neal, Chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. We will put this information to work, both internally, and to inform legislators about changes they may consider. At the forum, participants conducted 15 roundtable discussions on issues such as why it is important to vote and what barriers there are to registering and voting. Discussions later turned to possible reforms. At every stage, each table reported recommendations. Then lists of the suggestions were presented to the entire forum, so that all persons could use electronic voting devices to identify which ideas they thought were the best. The recommendations for election reforms that received the most top votes were: changing the law to allow voters to register on Election Day and to allow online registration (22%); letting voters cast ballots at vote centers open to any voter from any precinct (21%); allowing for online or phone-based voting systems (15%); educating youth about civic responsibilities (12%); and, in a related topic, mandating civics classes in schools (8%).

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Neal noted that many of the changes may require changes in state or federal laws. For example, a voter must register 28 days before the election, except for in-person registration at the election agency until five days before the election. Similarly, a voter may use any Early Voting site, but on Election Day, the voter may cast a ballot only at the polling place designated for the home precinct where the voter is registered. However, Neal noted that some of the concepts are feasible now, such as: setting up an on-line system that might allow voters to at least launch the registration process; using different outreach or marketing concepts; or providing voters with more information about candidates and elective offices via its web site or social media. Forum participants also identified what local organizations ranging from community groups to the education system might be able to contribute to voter engagement. Of nine different concepts reported from the table discussions, the audience voted most often (24%) to re-energize or grow civics education programs in grade schools and high schools. Asked what they could do individually to increase voter participation, forum participants top selections were: talking with friends and family to foster a culture of voting (19%); educating others about elections, particularly younger people (16%); organizing friends and family to vote (15%); registering people to vote (12%); and encouraging lawmakers to implement reforms (12%). Forum participants identified the following as top barriers to voter registration: lack of knowledge or understanding how to register (29%); a lack of motivation (23%); political frustration with the process (15%); and indifference/apathy (14%). Forum participants suggested the top barriers to actual voting are: apathy (39%); lack of trust in the election system or a sense that their votes would not matter (17%); and a lack of knowledge about voting (13%). Complete reports of the results of the Community Forum are available at the Chicago Election Boards web site at chicagoelections.com and on the Boards Voter Engagement Facebook page. # # #