Below is the story I did for The Columbia Chronicle. You will also find a link to the story on our website.
A group of community organizations in the Englewood neighborhood are working together to encourage more residents to register to vote in the 2012 election with hopes of persuading President Barack Obama to visit the area.
The Englewood Votes initiative, a nonpartisan campaign, aims to register 5,000 new voters and increase turnout for future elections.
Sonya Harper, an organizer of Englewood Votes, said she believes a visit from the president would motivate residents to get join in the electoral process.
“His presence alone would give the people here so much hope,” Harper said. “He wouldn’t even have to say a word.”
Englewood and other South Side neighborhoods have a history of low election turnout. According to the Chicago Board of Elections, Englewood currently has 32,344 registered voters, yet only 10,126 ballots were cast in the area during the March 2012 primary election.
Raymond Lopez, the Democratic committeeman for the 15th Ward, suggested that younger voters are responsible for the neighborhood’s low turnout.
“Older residents are the ones you see the most at the polls,” Lopez said. “They remember the struggle it took to get the right to vote. They don’t take voting for granted.”
Stephanie Montgomery, a longtime Englewood resident, said she and others fought hard for the right to vote, but some people feel their votes don’t matter because nothing ever seems to get done in local government.
“The aldermen are not doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Montgomery said. “It takes forever for our voices to be heard, and we’re tired of it.”
Low voter turnout in Englewood could also be due to the community’s ex-offender population, according to Lopez, a lifelong South Side resident. Thirty percent of neighborhood residents are ex-offenders, according to the Chicago Police Department.
Many of the communities ex-offenders do not know they have the right to vote, Lopez said. He added that Illinois is among more than a dozen states to restore voting rights to offenders after they are released from prison.
Harper said the fact that the neighborhood is composed of six different wards “creates chaos” when politicians are left to decide what happens locally.
Lopez said it is important that Englewood residents vote to show elected officials they are aware of what’s going on in local politics.
“Other neighborhoods get treated well because they vote well,” Lopez said. “We have to stay proactive because residents have the power to get politicians attention when you vote.”
Andrew Willins, a 25-year-old Englewood resident, said many residents are disconnected from the political world and not informed enough to vote intelligently.
“Most people around here vote because [Obama] is black, but he’s so much more than that,” Willins said. “People don’t care. They worry about themselves and not the future, for their children or families.”
Harper said it is up to the residents to get involved and stay up-to-date on neighborhood issues.
“We’re going to have to get really creative and get those who are not involved in politics to vote,” Harper said. “We’re not looking for anyone to come in and clean Englewood up. It’s up to the people [who] live here to do that.”