Editorial: Local elections need citizen candidates

  • Democracy suffers when not enough candidates step up to seek local leadership positions.

    Democracy suffers when not enough candidates step up to seek local leadership positions. Daily Herald File Photo Illustration

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted11/17/2018 2:00 PM

During the 2017 local election campaigns, the lack of participation seemed glaring, so we did an analysis to see how bad it was.

It turned out that only 30 percent of the offices up for election in the suburbs that year were contested. Only 30 percent! In seven out of 10 races, the candidates were given a free pass to elective office.


If that wasn't bad enough, our reporters found 150 suburban races that didn't even have enough candidates to fill all the positions on the ballot.

These were jarring numbers. As we looked at previous local elections back to 2009, we found that the numbers have been steadily getting worse. More contested races in 2009, fewer in 2011, progressively fewer in 2013, even fewer in 2015 until ultimately the pitifully low 2017 number.

This isn't how government by and for the people is supposed to work.

Filing for elective office begins Monday in a handful of suburban communities that have the potential for municipal primaries. And then begins in earnest for most communities on Dec. 10. The general election is April 2.

That 2019 election ballot will be filled with a wide array of local offices -- municipalities, school boards, park boards, library boards, townships, fire protection districts.

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Will 2017 end up being the bottoming out year with the 2019 elections showing a rebound in interest?

With the energy and turnout brought to this month's midterm elections, we'd like to think it will.

"If you want to have a vibrant political system, then you want to have people engaged in local politics," Kent Redfield, political science professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Springfield, told us at the conclusion of our 2017 study.

And yes, we want to have that.

But we're not holding our breath.

There are a lot of reasons people don't run for office. Competition for their time. Rules that make it a challenge to get on the ballot. Lack of encouragement or training to show candidates the way. And more.

"People are jaundiced by what they've seen in politics lately," added Greg Bielawski, a political science faculty member at the University of Iowa and a former Carol Stream village manager. "People have seen in recent years the lack of civility that has crept into our politics, and many say they're just not going to expose themselves to that."


Face it, one of the biggest causes for the lack of participation is disinterest and apathy.

But the lifeblood of democracy is citizen involvement. Without that involvement, the democracy falters.

If you care about your community, consider getting involved. Consider running for office.

It occurs to us for starters that plenty of good people ran in the recent midterms and they didn't all get elected. Off the top of our heads, we think of Jim Caffrey, Eddie Corrigan, Karen Feldman, Jody Kanikula, Soojae Lee, Seth Lewis and Tom Rooney. All impressive. While they didn't win for so-called higher office, each would have a lot to offer on the local level.

We're on the eve of important local elections. We need the candidates to make them matter.

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