Why aren't there many contested races for Lake County Board seats?

  • Jeff Werfel

    Jeff Werfel

  • John Wylie

    John Wylie

Updated 4/3/2014 4:42 PM

Of the seven Lake County Board seats up for election in November, only one has both Democratic and Republican candidates running.

The others are uncontested, with one party or the other not fielding a nominee after the March primary.


There typically have been a few uncontested county board races each election, but local political experts note the percentage this year is unusually high.

Bob Cook, the leader of the Republican Party in Lake County, attributed the lack of head-to-head races to the 21-district map the county board implemented in 2012.

It had two fewer districts than the previous map and it significantly redrew some districts.

Cook believes it created impenetrable Democratic and Republican strongholds.

"They redrew the map in such a way that only Republicans can win in Republican areas and only Democrats can win in Democratic areas," he said.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service

Pete Couvall, vice chairman of Lake County's Democratic organization, had a different take. Folks are disgusted by the worsening partisan polarization in American politics, he said, and it's keeping good people from running for office.

"I just think that the public is fed up," Couvall said. "It's hard to get people enthused to run for political office today."

Which seats are up

One-third of the county board's seats are up for election this year, and the candidates are seeking 4-year terms. The 14 other seats will be on the ballot in 2016.

County board members double as forest preserve district commissioners, receiving additional pay for their work with that agency.

The districts appearing on the Nov. 4 ballot are:


• District 3: Republican Tom Weber of Lake Villa is the only candidate.

• District 6: Democrat John Wylie and Republican Jeff Werfel, both of Grayslake, will face off.

• District 8: Democrat Bill Durkin of Waukegan is the only candidate.

• District 9: Democrat Mary Ross Cunningham of Waukegan is uncontested.

• District 10: Republican Chuck Bartels of Mundelein is running alone.

• District 17: Republican Nick Sauer of Lake Barrington is uncontested.

• District 19: Republican Craig Taylor of Lake Zurich is uncontested.

All of the candidates, except for those in the 6th and 10th districts, are incumbents.

Sixth District incumbent Pat Carey, a Democrat, isn't running again and neither is 10th District Republican Diana O'Kelly.

The District 8 and 9 seats are on the east side of the county and are in solidly Democratic Party territory. The 3rd, 17th and 19th districts are on the county's west side and have had Republican representatives for generations.

Bartels is the lone candidate in the 10th District, which also is historically Republican. Because the seat is essentially open in November, county board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said he was surprised no Democratic candidates surfaced.

"Any open seat, I would expect that you would have (candidates from) both parties," said Lawlor, a Vernon Hills Republican.

New boundaries

Based on population figures from the 2010 U.S. Census, the district boundaries were redrawn by a county board committee and approved by the board in 2011, ahead of the next year's election. They will be redrawn again after the 2020 Census.

If district boundaries have been drawn to favor members of one party or the other, the real races for county board seats may happen in the springtime primaries, not the general elections in November, Cook said.

"If you win the primary, you're going to win," he said.

This year, with O'Kelly not running for re-election in the 10th District, the Republican primary for her post drew three candidates.

But that wasn't the case in the 6th District, where two candidates ran for the Democratic nomination and two ran for the Republican nomination.

The winners -- Wylie and Werfel -- are facing off to represent an area that shifted from red to blue when Carey first won office in 2008.

Whereas Cook blamed the map for the dearth of head-to-head races in November, Lawlor had a different explanation.

He suspects the lack of partisan opposition may have to do with the general absence of partisan politics on the board.

Although the commissioners are elected as Republicans or Democrats, few of the panel's votes fall along party lines.

"Most of our votes are not partisan ones," Lawlor said.

Couvall had a less-rosy explanation. The veteran Democratic activist believes both parties are struggling to find candidates because of the populace's growing distaste for politicians and the political process in America.

"It starts in Washington D.C.," Couvall said. "And it comes down to the state level, too, in Springfield. The partisanship is out of control. There's no room for compromise."

That rancor and divisiveness "gives politics a bad name," he said, and it discourages many people from running for office.

Got cash?

Money may be a factor, too. Campaigning becomes more expensive every year -- whether the race is at the local, state or federal level -- and some people aren't up for the challenge.

"(It) seems much harder to raise money," said Lake County Clerk Willard Helander, who oversees elections in the county. "(It's) not the old days of just hoofing around to doors (and) stores and fundraising to mail fliers."

New candidates need cash to compete against incumbents who can promote themselves on the county's cable news network and in customized email blasts and mailings, Helander said.

And for incumbents, all of those publicity avenues are part of the county budget, as long as they're not overtly campaign-related.

"That is a real advantage," Helander said in an email.

Local party leaders have until June 2 to nominate candidates to fill open slots on the November ballot. Couvall said he expects the Democrats will find candidates for the District 10 and District 3 seats.

The GOP's Cook said there are no plans to find Republican candidates to run against the Democrats for the District 8 or District 9 seats.

"We don't want to run somebody just to run somebody," he said.

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 X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.