Local primaries make case for less democracy
Each week, we editor types contribute items for our Soapbox feature — pithy, quick-hit comments on the suburbs. Here's an sample from Saturday's Opinion page:
$130 per vote:
That's the cost of allowing 67 Aurora voters to winnow the field from five to two Ward 9 city council candidates in the February primary. The two survivors will square off again April 9. Say what you want about the 3.8 percent voter turnout, but maybe the problem lies in the system.
How about $125,000 for roughly 2,900 voters to decide between slates of GOP candidates in Palatine Township? Suburban Tax Watchdog Jake Griffin earlier this week chronicled these costs, which don't drop because turnout is low. They're a product of the patchwork of elections that pop up depending on the number of candidates who file.
Someone please step up:
In a state filled with archaic laws and excessive government, the February primary seems amazingly superfluous. Of course people don't come out to vote in the dead of winter to reduce the number of candidates they'll be voting for in a couple months. Can't a legislator step to the plate and suggest this is folly that needs to be undone?
As you may have guessed, I penned those pithy lines. But in reading them over, I thought they barely scratched the surface of a situation that seems to be a profound waste of money and effort. Yes, people in this nation should be ashamed of how blasé we've become over our right to vote. But consider the sparseness of those Feb. 26 ballots.
• In suburban Cook County, three slates of candidates scrummed for Palatine Township offices.
• In DuPage County, the aforementioned city council race in far eastern Aurora was held to knock three of five candidates off the ballot.
• In Kane County, Aurora Township Democrats were involved in party infighting. Meanwhile, in Elgin, fewer than 1,300 of 41,214 voters turned out to reduce the city council field from nine candidates to two.
• In Lake County, a three-way Democratic primary for Waukegan mayor drew an 11 percent turnout.
Again, blame the apathy of the electorate if you wish, but other than devout readers of local newspapers and the candidates, their families and friends, who even knew there was an election that snowy Tuesday?
Almost 1 million people live in DuPage County, and there were 67 people who voted in its lone race in Aurora Ward 9. Admittedly, if the April 9 election runs true to form, turnout will be lousy, maybe about 20 percent. Even then, are those people better served by having two candidates on the ballot rather than five? Is it helpful in Elgin to have two final choices — made by a much smaller voting bloc — than nine? And is it really necessary to have the voters sort out the intramural feuds among Democrats and Republicans? Yes, those caucuses, which some say are a key reason we need primaries, are less democratic, but one can make his or her voice heard in that system.
Admittedly, the money squandered on these primaries — $8,600 for the 67 votes cast in Aurora — is a drop in the bucket. And changing a law, perhaps especially election law, is no mean feat in this day of such polarized politics. But when also adding in the low turnout, opportunity for terrible weather and randomness of whether there's even something to vote on, isn't it time to take a hard look at this system?
Can't a legislator step to the plate and suggest this is folly that needs to be undone?
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