Editorial: More elections are not the answer

  • Four candidates for Rolling Meadows mayor participate in the Daily Herald endorsement interview earlier this year. Should a primary be held in such cases to limit the final election to the two top candidates?

    Four candidates for Rolling Meadows mayor participate in the Daily Herald endorsement interview earlier this year. Should a primary be held in such cases to limit the final election to the two top candidates? DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted6/20/2019 6:15 PM

John D'Astice is a good man with a bad idea.

D'Astice, a Rolling Meadows alderman, lost the race for Rolling Meadows mayor in April, finishing second among four candidates to now-Mayor Joe Gallo.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

D'Astice doesn't dispute the results and doesn't want to replay the April election. He does, however, want Rolling Meadows citizens to be able to vote on establishing a primary system for municipal candidates -- which would trigger a primary election when the number of candidates who filed to run for an office crosses a threshold.

If Rolling Meadows had a primary system in 2019, and Gallo and D'Astice had gone head-to-head in April, would the results have been different? Maybe.

But the outcome of the mayor's race isn't the entire issue here. For that matter, the results could have been different in April without a primary if more people had just gone to the polls on Election Day.

No, the root issue is that only 14% of the Rolling Meadows electorate turned out for one of the city's most consequential races in years. If a problem exists these days -- in Rolling Meadows or anywhere else -- it isn't the lack of a consolidated primary system, which most of our suburbs do not use. It's the general lack of interest in local, nonpartisan politics or the quality of local officeholders.

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Consolidated primary elections have proved to have little effect on the eventual outcome of a municipal race. They can confuse voters, who don't always understand the concept of having two elections for the same office. Primary elections can also be a repository for referendums, whose sponsors count on a low-turnout election to get something passed.

Elections in general are expensive, more than $3,000 per precinct. You can't put a price tag on democracy, of course, but there's no call to throw money out of the window, either.

The best argument for primaries is that by narrowing the candidate field, it is more likely that the eventual winner will get at least 50% of the vote. But at 14% turnout, the "people" aren't speaking either way.

The second-best argument for primaries is as a hedge against packing a ballot with "ghost" candidates, who can never be found and aren't really running, as their sole job is to dilute the vote for a "serious" candidate your side doesn't want to win.

If this was proving an issue in municipal elections, or if there was evidence that primary elections actually engaged more voters, we'd be willing to revisit this. But until then, consolidated primaries are a solution in search of a problem.

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