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posted: 4/7/2011 12:01 AM

Would fewer races equal more voters?

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

In all of suburban Cook County, a bit more than 16 percent of 1.39 million registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday's election. In DuPage County, 16.4 percent of registered voters participated. In Kane, 13 percent cast ballots. In Lake County, it was a bit under 15 percent turnout. The participation rates hit record lows in Cook, DuPage and Kane Tuesday and, in Lake, it was the lowest of the past four such elections.

There were, of course, some hot spots with heated contests and angry voters in certain towns and school districts.

But what's it all mean? Why don't people care to exercise a privilege others die in the streets to attain elsewhere around the world?

In many cases, it very well may be that voters are generally satisfied with the jobs their at best modestly-paid public servants are performing. Or it very well may partly be that the whole thing is just too overwhelming with too many people and local governments and questions to research. In Des Plaines, for instance, things were fairly low key, but voters still needed to know about the challenges and candidates and backgrounds of people running for the city council, the park district, the elementary district, the high school district, the community college district and, oh yes, the regional school superintendent's office.

Part of the problem may be piling all these local governments into one election. We believe part of the problem in Illinois is that we simply have too many governments.

Cook County Clerk David Orr agrees. In a Fence Post letter recently, Orr noted there were 2,053 candidates on suburban Cook ballots alone in 716 different races. "When it comes to reducing the number of taxing bodies," he wrote, "we must all put personal interests aside."

To that, we say, amen. Orr is willing to merge his election office with Chicago's and to explore merging tax functions of his and various Cook offices. Earlier this week in a guest column on this page, Lake County resident and Avon Township Supervisor Sam Yingling argued it was past time for township government to go away. He noted Avon Township, for one, is responsible for 11.7 miles of road but is required by law to finance a highway commission when a county could and should do that road maintenance. Gov. Pat Quinn has suggested school districts consolidate and regional superintendent offices be abolished. Others are pushing plans to merge the comptroller and treasurer's offices. Yet finding officials like Orr and Yingling who are willing to sacrifice their jobs remains a rarity.

The few citizens who did vote Tuesday overwhelmingly said "no" to most requests for more taxpayer money and "yes" to questions about limiting officials' terms. Maybe, just maybe, more citizens would do the work to make themselves educated local voters if there were fewer governments and government officials to elect.