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

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. This is such a sham. Neither the pbevanston website nor the form to request ballots has a data privacy policy listed.

    That means the city and the consultant can do whatever they want with your name, phone number, and email address.

    Since this is not a real election there is no law to stop people from signing up and voting multiple times. So feel free to vote early and often and register with fake names.

    Total amateur hour.

  2. From a financial responsibility standpoint, how are we moving forward with spending $3M on nice to haves, when we are seeing a $20M deficit?

  3. I anticipate voting “none of the above.” Our City buildings need millions of dollars of repairs and our pipes are made of lead. Use the money for repairs or preventative maintenance, which will save money later.

  4. Residents be aware if you vote- a MOBILE DENTAL VAN for $2.5 million “participatory fed funds” OR ANY PORTION THEREOF is going to service one category of new out of town residents who reside in and are invited here to (Medicaid) homeless Shelters and rehab category. Evanston has at least three dozen DDS/DMD and numerous Pace bus routes accessible within EV which serve Medicaid recipients free and/or reduced fares with additional special transport for disabled. This City is only 7.8 square miles. $2.5 million is ARPA fed money for Evanston and will service a new group being enticed here for free services so please do not perpetuate this. For two years?? then pleading for taxes federal and local. Medical vans paid with government monies of any tax category are legitimate in indigent farmland communities with little or no public transportation.

  5. This is such a pile of BS. What is in it for the taxpayer (s)???? OH WAIT!!! More grief.This is on a much grander scale like folks who can’t manage their money and even though they are behind on their car payment or paying the minimum on a maxed out credit card……… they go on a vacation with their tax return. Evanston has a 9M dollar deficit, which is estimated to grow to 20M by 2025. A fiscally RESPONSIBLE community would use the money to address the deficit. The 3M Evanston wants to waste could be used to reduce the budget deficit by 33⅓ %. Starting many of these programs not only waste money but also creates long term monetary responsibilities. What are we going to do, reduce a day of thrash pickup, close the library for the day to fund these new useless programs in the future? FREAKING HOMELESS can vote !!!!!!!! Homeless …….. the homeless that is costing us a ton of grief, loss of revenue and DO NOT live in Evanston??? Starting @ 14 years old to be eligible is also nuts, they can’t even drive a damn car. This is not a vote to name the new baby lion at Lincoln Park Zoo.

  6. What is happening to Evanston? Has the Mayor and all the elected officials lost their mind? Evanston cannot and should not try to be everything for everyone, we simply can’t afford it.
    Who came up with the insane idea that letting 14 year olds, people from outside Evanston and let’s not forget all the homeless that Connections has brought to our community vote? We the taxpayer will be stuck with the bill for all these wants not needs programs.
    Wake up people , take a walk around town and look at all the vacant storefront’s then ask why, maybe because taxes are already too high here. Add to that the oversized homeless population that has been created by connections handing out vouchers to people all over the Chicagoland area to come live here for free. No one is managing the mentally unstable and drug addicts and as of this writing connections doesn’t even require you to be sober to receive free housing.
    In the last 5 years Evanston has gone from a safe beautiful town that everyone could enjoy to a place where you have to be on guard and careful all the time because of the rise in crime we are experiencing. Do no city officials read the crime report that comes out several times a week?
    Evanston needs to get its home in order starting with balancing the budget. If you are capable of that then you can look at wants. For now we can’t afford to pay for these programs especially given that they are primarily gear to help only the low or no income people. It is time to take care of the taxpayers.

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