Early voting for the Nov. 6 general election has started at the Loop Super Site, 175 W. Washington St. and at two locations in Austin.

Registered voters can cast their ballots for governor, attorney general and a host of other offices, including state representative and members of Congress,  from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the downtown location as well as in the 29th Ward at Amundsen Park (6200 W. Bloomingdale) and the 37th Ward at West Chicago Avenue Library (4856 W. Chicago).

While some races are contested, many other seats up for election are uncontested.

Incumbent state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-8th) faces no competition. Ford, who’s served in the Illinois House since 2007, has been gathering signatures to run for mayor of Chicago in the February municipal election.

Although Ford is running uncontested like many other candidates, he said he still encourages people to vote.

“When the community is engaged it sends a message that we should be respected in the community,” Ford said.

Brandon Johnson is the Democratic candidate for Cook County Board Commissioner for the 1st District. Johnson, running for office for the first time and facing no opposition this fall, has been endorsed by the Sun-Times. He won the March primary, beating incumbent Richard Boykin.

Johnson, an Austin resident who’s worked for CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union, said he hopes to revitalize the community. His priorities include improving the health care system and public safety in Austin, which will spur economic growth.

Austin has been “depleted,” Johnson said. “If we do not have local elected officials who are willing to stand up and fight and protect and extend services, we’re going to keep losing.”

Incumbent Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-7th) faces Republican candidate Craig Cameron. Davis, who’s served in the U.S. House for two decades, was endorsed by both the Tribune and the Sun-Times.

Cameron, a first-time candidate originally from New Orleans, said if elected, he would work to create safer streets and get more funding for after-school programs. Cameron said he hopes running against Davis will “wake [him] up.”

“The bottom line is things on the South and West sides aren’t getting any better, they’re getting worse,” Cameron said. “That means that something’s not being done correctly, and maybe this will let him know that he has it too easy.”

Also on this fall’s ballot is this question, asking if the city of Chicago and state of Illinois should “work together to construct a new Comprehensive High School in the 29th Ward to be placed in the Austin Community.”

The vote is non-binding and does not mean there will be a new high school constructed if voters approve the question. However, Ford said he has met with CPS CEO Janice Jackson, who told him the Chicago Board of Education will take into account this input from the community.

“You have to build the support from the community, and then the board will work with the communities in order to provide public education,” Ford said.

The state lawmaker said he hopes Austin residents will vote “yes” for this question. This new school would differ from the other six high schools operating in Austin because of its college preparatory focus, he added.

“When you see a community that struggles with good education, property values begin to stay stagnant or go down, and you begin to see people leave,” Ford said. “High-quality education drives the population up, and it drives a more vibrant community.”

Turnout in the last general election two years ago was 67.23 percent in the 29th Ward according to the Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago, while in the 37th Ward, there was a 61.59 percent voter turnout. The average turnout of all 50 Chicago wards was 71.04 percent.

Millennials, those aged 18 to 35, are now as large a political force as Baby Boomers, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Pew Research Center. Earlier this week, Ford encouraged millennials as well as ex-offenders to show their voting power in this election.

Voting rights in Illinois are automatically restored when prisoners are released, Ford said, and people on parole or probation can vote. Ex-offenders should re-register to vote, he said.

Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, predicted voter turnout will be high compared to past years because of the 2016 elections and the hot-button issues, such as public safety, education and property taxes.

“I think everyone learned in 2016 how important elections can be, and everyone feels like there is more at stake at elections than previously,” Simpson said.

There’s still time to register to vote. Online registrations are still being accepted through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21. You can also register in person at early voting sites from Oct. 22 through Nov. 5. For more information, click here.

Voters can also find midterm election information in the Sun-Times’ and Tribune’s voting guides.

CONTACT: austintalks.org@gmail.com