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Could 2020 Chicago Election Numbers Top Highs Set In Harold Washington Mayoral Election In 1983?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In these final days of 2020, Americans have been voting early in huge numbers.

The U.S. Elections Project reports nationwide, 90,488,149 people have cast ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election. In Illinois, 3,038,616 had voted as of Saturday.

Experts expect the vote totals to break records, but as CBS 2's Jeremy Ross reported Saturday, there is one total in particular that Chicago leaders are watching closely.

Some mailed their ballots in, and hundreds and thousands of those mailed-in ballots were catalogued and carefully counted. Others parked themselves patiently outside, part of lingering lines of in-person early voters.

Those are the sights and sounds signaling history could be made on Tuesday.

"We've broken records already," said Marisel Hernandez, Chairwoman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. "Presidential elections have yield a 67 to 76 percent turnout."

Hernandez said that number could be surpassed, with a turnout not seen in decades.

"In 1983 for Mayor Harold Washington's election, that yielded about an 82, 83 percent turnout," Hernandez said.

Almost 1.5 million people had voted in Chicago as of 6 p.m. Election Day, April 12, 1983 – as Washington took on Republican Bernard Epton. Washington had already defeated incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne in the February Democratic primary.

Ross asked said Political consultant Don Rose if the 1983 election should be the gold standard that we measure everything else from.

"Well I would say for Chicago it would be," Rose said.

Rose said that 82 or 83 percent number is the modern milestone to watch for in this election.

He called the 1983 race – resulting in the late Harold Washington becoming Chicago's first Black mayor – a turning point for politics in the Windy City.

"It showed the large awakening of the African-American vote in Chicago," Rose said.

CBS 2 Coverage Of Mayoral Election Day On April 12, 1983

Rose said until that election, turnout by Black voters lagged their white counterparts by 10 percent. But that changed with Washington's victory.

To achieve the same voter turnout in this year's election, about 1.5 million of Chicago's 1.8 million registered voters would need to cast ballots.

While Rose cautions that COVID-19 concerns could impact vote totals, he and others believe that 1983 turnout mark is within Chicago's sights.

"We have never seen such a divided America stimulating support for both sides; antagonizing for both sides, so all of these things conspire to turn out a very significant election," Rose said. "It's generally good news for the country to see the participation that we always want to see."

"We may break that record this time around," Hernandez said.

Hundreds of thousands have already voted early in person. Early in-person voting continues through Monday, and after that, you can cast a traditional ballot on Election Day Tuesday.

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