Numerous races have more ballot spots than candidates

 
 
Posted1/11/2015 5:30 AM
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  • Daily Herald File PhotoWhen voters enter the booth in the spring election, often they will be looking at races that have fewer candidates than available seats.

    Daily Herald File PhotoWhen voters enter the booth in the spring election, often they will be looking at races that have fewer candidates than available seats.

Scott Coffey isn't just a candidate for the Cary Elementary District 26 school board.

Right now, he's the only candidate running in April for three available seats.

"We have two incumbents who aren't running for re-election, and no one else in the community has put their name in the hat yet," said Coffey, who has served on the District 26 board since 2009.

The lack of competition isn't unique -- there are numerous races on the spring ballot throughout the suburbs that have fewer candidates than available seats.

As a result, write-in candidates could end up being elected to a village, school, park or library board with only a handful of votes.

"If there's no else for you to run against, you just have to have one vote to win," said Brent Davis, director of election information with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

That could happen, for example, on the Arlington Heights Memorial Library board, where there's one candidate for two open seats.

In Deer Park, only two candidates have filed to run for three village board seats. And Hampshire-based Community Unit District 300 is one person away from having enough candidates for its four available board seats.

In DuPage County, at least nine school districts don't have enough candidates.

Roselle Elementary District 12, for example, had four incumbents -- including board President Lisa Mondo -- decline to put their names on the April ballot. Newcomer Brittany Loftus is the only candidate in the contest for four seats.

Superintendent Melissa Kaczkowski said she's not surprised, especially when she sees so many other DuPage districts in the same situation.

"It's difficult to get people to make that degree of a commitment," Kaczkowski said. "I think the four-year commitment is something that scares people because they just don't know what their lives are going to be like in four years."

The time commitment is one reason political experts cite when talking about why local races wax and wane in terms of attracting candidates.

In the case of District 26, the lack of competition comes just two years after eight candidates -- six of them newcomers -- vied for the opportunity to represent the district.

"You just have these weird circumstances where sometimes there aren't people that are interested," said Phillip Hardy, an assistant political science professor at Benedictine University in Lisle. "Other times, you happen to have a slew of people who want to run."

Unfortunately, Hardy said, many residents aren't paying attention to local politics and don't want to get involved.

"There just are factors at the local level that can sometimes make it hard to find quality people to run," he said.

A notable exception is when governmental boards are dealing with a controversial issue or have factions opposing one another.

"Then you're going to get a lot more people interested in trying to have a say," Davis said. "Drama sells."

That appears to be the case in the small DuPage community of Winfield, where nine candidates are squaring off for three seats on the village board. Yet the Winfield Elementary District 34 board has no one running for a vacant 2-year term.

If no one is elected to that and other available seats on April 7, individuals will be appointed to fill the spots. Depending on the unit of government, appointments are made by the head of the board or the board as a whole.

But before that can happen, residents can make bids for seats as write-in candidates. All they need to do is declare their write-in candidacies by Feb. 5 with their county clerk's office or election commission. Votes for write-in candidates who haven't declared won't count.

Davis said being a write-in candidate is easier than being an official candidate because you don't need to circulate petitions to get your name on the ballot. And people who vote for a write-in candidate aren't even required to spell that candidate's name correctly, as long as it's close.

"The election judges will operate on what they believe to be the voter's intent," Illinois State Board of Elections General Counsel Ken Menzel said.

So there's nothing stopping residents in districts such as Bloomingdale Elementary District 13 or Fenton High School District 100 from responding to the lack of candidates by launching their own write-in campaigns.

"You just have to have more votes than other people," Menzel said.

Kaczkowski said District 12 officials will be watching to see if any write-in candidates emerge in Roselle.

"Honestly," she said, "we're happy for anyone to step up."

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