What's at stake today in the Northwest suburbs?
Eighteen mayoral seats. Eighty-three slots on city councils and village boards. Ninety-five seats on local school boards and community college boards.
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McHenry County: www.co.mchenry.il.us/departments/countyclerk/Pages/Elections.aspx
Fifty-six park board slots, 37 library board seats, 62 township seats, eight fire protection district positions and 10 jobs as a county school trustee.
In all, 464 candidates competing, or not, for 369 seats in local government.
Or to put it another way, 464 candidates are competing for the right to make decisions on budgets and policy for hundreds of local governments.
"If you are looking at the quality of your life, local elections are more important than state elections and even national elections," said Paul Green, director of the Institute of Politics at Roosevelt University.
A major reason for that, Green said, is these are the governments that collect residents' property taxes.
"Nothing is free in a democracy. You pay for all these governments and if you don't vote you'll still be paying without having a choice as to who gets the money," Green said. "If you don't vote then someone else is electing the people who will tax you."
In Cook County, 40,693 voters cast ballots during the early voting period that ended Saturday, according to Cook County Clerk David Orr's office. That's up 52.5 percent from the 2011 Consolidated Election (26,679 ballots cast) and up 60.4 percent from 2009 (25,375), Orr's office said.
The improved early voting numbers may be a reflection of more people being comfortable with the system, or may be because of the "hot" races throughout the suburbs.
Here in the Northwest suburbs, several mayoral races with no incumbent running again -- Arlington Heights, Bartlett, Des Plaines -- drew three candidates each and very aggressive campaigns. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Arlington Heights, where Village President Arlene Mulder is stepping down after 20 years as mayor and two more on the village board.
In Bartlett, a stark line has been drawn between one group of candidates for village president and trustee, and the other group.
In Mount Prospect, six candidates with dramatic differences in philosophy are running for three seats on the village board.
In Bartlett, voters will get another chance to declare their interest in electrical aggregation, after rejecting it a couple of years ago. In Hoffman Estates, incumbent Mayor Bill McLeod is getting a challenge from Trustee Ray Kincaid; the village board and even the park board are contested.
In Des Plaines, each ward up for re-election has more than one candidate, and three candidates are running for mayor, in the wake of Marty Moylan resigning to join the state legislature.
In the past decade, voter turnout in suburban Cook County has ranged from a high of 27 percent in 2005 to a low of 16.7 percent in 2011.
Green said it's disappointing that turnout is historically low in local elections.
"There's not enough publicity and people think it doesn't matter. The issues are often administrative and not very sexy," Green said. "But they are critical issues that affect your property values and your taxes."
Polls are open until 7 p.m. today.