Let voters decide on township candidates

One-third of all elected officials in Illinois are township officials. During the next few weeks, political insiders in each township will decide whether voters should have a voice in nominating the candidates for the well-paid elected offices with little work in most of the state's 1,431 townships. We say the decision should be "yes."

But both political parties usually shut out voters by holding a meeting instead of a primary election to pick their candidates. That "caucus," while theoretically open to the public, is usually attended by only the insiders, and packed by the incumbents, their employees and families who vote for the nominees. Those paid positions are usually handed out as patronage rewards to party workers by the insiders.

It is a rigged system, the last remaining legal patronage enshrined in Illinois law. But each party's precinct committeemen in each township can vote before November 15 at their monthly meetings to hold a primary election instead of a caucus. Good government requires that they do so.

Downstate, township government is the only local government in rural areas. But in urban areas, it is of questionable value because its three main functions (roads, welfare payments, and property assessment) can handled by other existing units of government. Yet four elected trustees are paid thousands of dollars over their four-year terms to meet for an hour one evening per month. The elected clerk is usually paid even more for also keeping the minutes and authenticating the elected supervisor's signature on documents. The elected highway commissioner (who handles fewer miles of rural roads every year) and elected assessor tend to be full-time and are paid accordingly.

Voters choose party nominees for offices from president on down, except for townships. That exception should be eliminated. Only the precinct committeemen can allow it, and they should.

Stanley R. Zegel

Executive Director

Citizen Participation Institute

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