All sorts of trouble with our local elections

 
 
Posted12/14/2014 5:01 AM

Time again for what's become a regular rant.

Monday marks the first day for candidates to file for local municipal, school, park and library boards -- every element of government that's closest to the people. Unfortunately, many of the people just don't care about local elections, which occur in April. Consider these turnout statistics from the most recent local elections of April 2013.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Cook and DuPage counties: 19 percent.

Kane County: 13 percent.

Lake County: 18 percent.

Those numbers are the worst they've been in the past three decades. In 1989, for example, 34 percent of voters turned out in DuPage and Kane counties. It's easy to blame voter apathy, but one could argue there are some systemic problems that lead to local government representation that's sometimes less than ideal. To wit:

• Lack of candidates. If filing week, Dec. 15-22, runs true to form, about half the races will be uncontested. Some ballots won't draw enough candidates to fill the number of seats to be claimed. Most of the uncontested races tend to fall among park, library and township boards. That underscores perhaps another problem:

• Dizzying array of local governments. Illinois leads the nation with almost 7,000 units of government, about 2,000 more than the next-closest state. I would contend the suburbs have a disproportionately high volume. In DuPage County alone, there are about 400 units. In addition, there are many small units of government, such as one-school school districts. That reminds me of yet another problem:

• Weird geography. These local governments overlap all over the place. Rare is the town with municipal and school boundaries that align. An extreme example of the other extreme occurs in Carol Stream, where no fewer than five school districts course through the community. I'll bet weirdness like that causes at least two problems:

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• Bewildered electorate and ill-informed candidates. There are so many choices on a local ballot, so many governments represented, how is Joe Citizen supposed to be on top of the issues? I have never failed to come across at least one candidate each election who clearly does not understand the function of the government he or she is running for. OK, thought of one more problem:

• Timing/weather. Could we possibly pick a worse time for candidates to file than the week before Christmas? Admittedly, the process doesn't take that long, but there's the gathering of signatures and other procedures that come beforehand. Two years ago, before the state legislature stepped in, the final day of candidate filing was set to occur on Christmas Eve. Wait! One more potential problem:

• As you'll read elsewhere in today's editions, because the filing period comes so close to the holidays, it was decided that it might be dumb to force school districts to stay open solely to accommodate school board candidates. So, those candidates, rather than filing at their local school administration building, will be required to do so at the county clerk's office. More time and trouble for the candidates, especially so in massive Cook County, where election officials have opened four candidate filing sites, including one at Arlington International Racecourse. A significant onslaught of candidates is expected.

We'll be there, of course, to chronicle the festivities.

• Jim Davis, jdavis@dailyherald.com, is DuPage County/Fox Valley news director.

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