Daily Herald opinion: Too often, low-turnout votes in spring limit voter's choices in the fall. Prepare for March.

To judge by news coverage, you might think that the only issue to worry about in Illinois' March 19, 2024, primary is whether one of a rapidly dwindling number of upstarts can present a serious challenge to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.

That contest is important, of course. Whoever is the GOP winner likely will face incumbent President Joe Biden in the November General Election.

But there is much more to primary politics than just the presidential election, so it's important that you begin watching for headlines about those other, often considerably less dramatic contests. In addition to deciding possible tax referendums, primary voters this year will be selecting partisan candidates for most county offices, many legislative seats and all congressional districts.

Candidates began filing petitions for those offices on Monday, and other hopefuls have until next Monday at 5 p.m. to seek a spot on their party's ballot. After that, the campaigning will begin. Invariably, the hectic holiday season presents distracting competition for politics in December, but try to keep at least some of your attention tuned to developing races. When the dust of the holidays clears after Jan. 1, you will have barely more than 10 weeks to pick candidates whose decisions will influence the direction of county, state and national government.

Typically, primary elections are disappointingly neglected affairs, considered successful if they can manage to muster turnouts in the mid-20% range. This is unfortunate not just in a finger-wagging everyone-should-vote way but more so in terms of the practical impact these elections have on determining the people who ultimately will be chosen for leadership position. In a very real sense, low voter turnouts at primaries have contributed to the deterioration of our political discourse, as the voters these elections do attract tend to be highly motivated candidates from the right and the left.

If you consider yourself a moderate representative of your party and feel you are getting left behind because the options for candidate in the General Election tend to be uncompromising partisans, you owe no small part of your dismay to the small numbers of like-minded moderates who bother to show up at the polls in the spring. Small primary turnouts encourage single-issue candidates and political hardliners, and they discourage candidates who might be more capable of governing effectively in a two-party system.

Keep this in mind as you watch ballots take shape. In our democracy, you can have choices, but only if you participate at every level of the process.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.