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A First-Time Voter Joins Political Process

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A First-Time Voter Joins Political Process

Maurice Willis and his cousin Gereard Reese. Reese is a first-time voter. (WBEZ/Natalie Moore)

There are just four weeks until the November general election. It’s turning out to be one for the history books. That’s of course because of the presidential race between Illinois Senator Barack Obama and Arizona Senator John McCain. For some Chicagoans, the election represents a bit of personal history—a milestone in their lives. Over the next few weeks, we’ll introduce you to a few of those voters. And we’ll check back with them on Election Night.

Gereard Reese is at Whitney Young Library on 79th and King Drive picking up, for the first time, an application to register to vote.

He’s here even though he says politics is corrupt.

REESE: I don’t feel like the government or the Constitution really works for the people so it had discouraged me from voting in the first place.

But this time around, a certain politician from the South Side has Reese willing to take a chance.

REESE: Why not vote for Obama? Besides him being black I like some of his points, views, you know.

Reese says he thinks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will stop outsourcing jobs overseas and will end the war in Iraq. Reese’s cousin is with him as he fills out the application. Reese has glaucoma and has lost a lot of his eyesight so he can’t read small print.

He has trouble finding work and is currently on disability. As a first-time voter, Reese isn’t unique. The Chicago board of elections says the number of registered voters this year is unprecedented.

Though he has never registered before, 35-year-old Reese, the father of two, is not apolitical. He keeps up with current events and has strong views about unemployment and ending the war in Iraq.

Reese says one of the reasons he never went to the polls before was his discouragement with the Electoral College results in the Al Gore-Bush race eight years ago.

His cousin Maurice Willis chimes in:

WILLIS: Hmmm … McCain, hmmmm…nah, I don’t see that happening as far as a vote from me.

He’s speaking of the Republican presidential candidate John McCain. There’s one thing he’s hoping for from Obama.

WILLIS: More jobs. More jobs. Right now there really are no jobs out here.

Something both men agree on. That’s part of what’s made Gereard Reese cynical about government. Another part, he says, is mistreatment by police.

REESE: I’m still a quote on quote a nigga in some ways. Not only that, I feel like this government is trying to enslave me into debt.

And even though Reese is a black man from the South Side of Chicago, that’s not the primary connection he feels with Obama.

REESE: I feel like he can make a change. I don’t know if he will, but I’m hoping so. It’s a leap of faith. I was hoping like everybody else for better times, better economy, better this. Bush and lot of other presidents didn’t really put effort to help black people or other people as well. I feel like they’re out from themselves and rich people.

Before Obama, the last politician Reese liked was Chicago’s Mayor Harold Washington. And after Election Day on November 4, Reese admits, he’s not sure if he’ll ever return to the polls.

I’m Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.

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