Get out to vote

It’s local referendums that really affect your wallet, but few of us seem to care

You might think that the most critical vote you could make this year would be in the presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. It’s a sure bet that upward of 150 million people will be casting their ballot in that high-stakes race come November.

We would never dissuade you from voting in that race or any other, mind you. Voting is not just a right but a responsibility in a representative government such as ours. That election will have a profound effect on our standing in the world, but it’s unlikely to make much of a difference in your wallet.

What will?

Your local referendum.

Our Jake Griffin, who writes every week about the ways in which your taxes are spent, this week was inspired by a report from Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas to revisit the rate at which we voted in local referendums last spring.

Among his findings:

When Batavia School District 101 requested $140 million to rebuild and renovate a some of its schools only one in three voters cast a ballot. Only about 7,000 voters took the time to weigh in on the measure.

Sadly, this was a rush to the polls in comparison to other ballot measures.

Of the 22 ballot questions posed to eligible voters in the Daily Herald’s coverage area of Northwest suburban Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane and McHenry counties, 15 were decided by fewer than one in four voters ― four of them by fewer than one in 10 eligible voters.

It’s difficult to justify complaining about high taxes when, given the chance to express ourselves with a binding vote, we find something better to do.

In the case of last spring’s ballot measures, voters said no to 14 of the 22. If your family would have benefited directly from a school expansion or some other proposed tax increase but didn’t vote, you’re probably kicking yourself for not making an effort to cast a ballot. Same goes for those who opposed to a tax increase but didn’t cast a ballot in the eight ballot measures that were approved.

With so few votes, only the most ardent of us are casting ballots. Whatever happened to the great middle?

It’s common practice for taxing bodies to squeeze questions onto primary ballots and midterm ballots when they know fewer people turn out.

Since the early days of COVID-19, most ballot questions in Cook County have been decided by fewer than one in four eligible voters, Pappas said.

“Voters are given the power to make these key decisions, but most don’t bother to vote,” she said. “And when their taxes go up, they are the first to complain.”

Pappas is right.

When we squander our votes, as we so often do, it’s not we who are deciding who leads our country, our municipal and school boards or how much can be added to our property tax bills.

On Tuesday, more than two dozen referendum questions will appear on suburban ballots ― the preponderance of them in DuPage County.

The convenience of early voting now behind us, folks who haven’t voted by mail already will need to find a way to get to a polling place to make their feelings known. Let’s buck the trend and show people what democracy is all about.

Let’s get out and vote.

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