You might be paying for a primary you can't vote in
Next Tuesday a few voters in fewer suburban townships will head to the polls to decide who will appear on another ballot in five weeks.
In many cases, the winners of those primary contests will go on to face no one in the April 4 election.
While primary voting will be limited to residents of eight townships in three counties, everyone who lives in those counties will be picking up the tab.
It's anticipated to cost Kane County taxpayers in excess of $75,000 for two township primaries, and McHenry County is expected to pay about $68,000 for three primaries. The Aurora Election Commission will handle most of the costs associated with the Aurora Township Democratic primary in Kane County but didn't have immediate cost estimates.
But DuPage County taxpayers will likely spend the most.
Joe Sobecki, interim executive director of the DuPage County Election Commission, which is handling Republican primaries in Naperville, Wayne and Winfield townships, said most of the costs are associated with the actual day of the election and staffing at polling places. There are also costs related to renting spaces, hauling equipment, printing and training.
"We've estimated the cost to be around $165,000," Sobecki said. "We haven't had a township primary since 1985 because normally those decisions are made at caucus."
In all cases, township party leaders -- seven township Republican organizations and the Aurora Township Democrats -- opted to forgo caucuses in favor of the primary, most citing better voter access.
"You don't get very many people to show at caucuses," said Dundee Township GOP Chairman Jay Radke. "Primaries get you a better turnout so the people have a voice in the candidacy."
But the paradox of Dundee Township's Republican primary in Kane County is that the winners of the highway commissioner and trustee races will face no competition in April's election, where turnout is likely to be three times higher than the 5 to 6 percent of voters who historically show up at these types of primaries.
And that's the case in a lot of other partisan primaries throughout the suburbs as well, according to records from county clerks.
"Unfortunately, turnout is very, very low, and the sad part is these are the elections that affect your property taxes the most," Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham said.
In addition to Dundee, the winner in most or all primary races in Algonquin, Aurora, Grafton, Winfield and Wayne townships will have no listed competition on the April ballot. Some residents have filed to run as write-ins for those township races, but their names won't appear on the actual ballot.
Meanwhile, Democrats have slated candidates to face most or all of the Republican primary winners in Naperville and Nunda townships.
Lake County is without any township primaries this year for a multitude of reasons. Many townships in Lake County are run by local political parties that slate their own candidates, rather than file as Republicans or Democrats. Or the candidates simply file as independents and they all run against one another in April.
Antioch Township in Lake County has three people running for township supervisor as independents. Benton Township in the northeastern part of the county has five independent candidates running for supervisor.
There is no mechanism that allows election officials to charge township party officials for staging primaries. This is simply the cost of democracy, they say, and the way state election law is written. However, there may be ways to avoid these costly primaries.
"The legislature would have to do something to switch them all to nonpartisan races, otherwise we'll always get these primaries," said Ken Menzel, Illinois State Board of Elections general counsel.
That's an idea that has merit to Abe Scarr, director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group. He said if the true desire is to give the most voters more choices at the polls, the primary defeats that agenda.
"Making all local elections nonpartisan is a good idea because of the issues they deal with don't intersect with normal party lines," he said. "Then all get to decide rather than just party insiders."