Organizers say Evanston’s experiment in participatory budgeting is attracting more potential voters than they expected.
With online registration under way for the public vote on how to spend a $3 million slice of the city budget, 3,086 people had signed up as of 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Matt Ouren, who’s managing the program for the city, tells Evanston Now that the hope was for 2,000 registrants by the time voting opens on Sept. 1.
“We’re really excited” about registrations being way above projections, Ouren says.
It will still be possible to sign up online after balloting starts. Registration and voting run through Sept. 30. Online registrants will receive a ballot with an individual ID code.
Under PB, voters can choose up to seven projects from a list of 20. The projects were selected by a panel of community volunteers, following a series of public input sessions.
Related: What’s on the PB Ballot?
Projects getting the most votes get funded, but there might not actually be seven receiving money, as once the $3 million is allocated in order of voter preference, that’s it.
So, depending on the vote, it’s theoretically possible that only two or three projects will be covered.
The $3 million is less than 1% of Evanston’s budget, so Ouren says that PB is a “civic engagement practice” as well as a way to allocate spending.
Evanston’s PB is designed to cast a wide net. Unlike a traditional election, you do not have to live in Evanston in order to vote, you just need a “stake” in the community. If you are a non-resident who works in Evanston, has a business here, or has children who go to school here, PB wants you.
Those age 14 and up can also vote, with parental permission. Undocumented individuals and those who are homeless can also cast ballots.
Besides the required sign-up information such as name, phone number and email address for those requesting online ballots, there is also a series of non-mandatory demographic questions such as race, gender identification and total household income.
There is also a question on whether Evanston should do participatory budgeting again.
For those who do not want to register and vote online, there will be in-person sign-up and balloting at PB “expos” at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center on Sept 10 and Levy Center on Sept.23.
At those events, participatory budgeting delegates will be on hand to explain why certain things ended up on the ballot.
“It’s kind of like a science fair,” Ouren says, with displays set up about the various projects.
There will also be ballot stations at public libraries and several other sites all through September, for in-person voters who cannot make the expos.
About 1,500 localities worldwide have participatory budgeting. The first place in the U.S. was just across Howard Street, in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.
We’ll know which projects are the winners in early-to-mid-October, after the votes are counted.
There will also be a demographic breakdown (age, non-resident, Evanston ward, and other data). But as not everyone will answer the demographic questions, the breakdown will only be based on those who respond to those queries.
When Evanston’s PB pioneers started down this road, they were hoping to get 5% of Evanston’s population to vote.
If you counted just residents age 14 or older, that would be about 3,450 people.
Given the limited available data about the number of people in the other categories of eligible voters, it’s unclear what a true 5% of eligible participants might be.
But “if we get 5% of Evanston,” Ouren says, “it will put us in the top 1% of PB turnout everywhere.”
In an effort to make that happen, on the last page of the online signup is a link and a message: “Please forward this registration form to 5 family and friends.”
For more information about the proposed PB projects, online registration and voting, and in-person ballot locations, visit pbevanston.org.