Will voters stay energized for local elections?

 
 
Posted11/19/2018 5:40 AM
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  • While votes are still being counted in some Nov. 6 contests, election officials and candidates for local office are gearing up for the next election, with filing starting today.

    While votes are still being counted in some Nov. 6 contests, election officials and candidates for local office are gearing up for the next election, with filing starting today. Associated Press FILE PHOTO

Even before the results from the Nov. 6 election are made official, candidates vying for seats on some local boards will be filing nominating petitions this week to run in the spring consolidated election.

Filing begins today and continues through Nov. 26 for candidates in towns with potential primary elections on Feb. 26, such as Aurora, Chicago, Elgin, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Schaumburg and Wheaton. For school boards, other local boards and municipal boards without primaries, the filing period is Dec. 10-17 for the April 2 election.

Though often suffering from a dearth of candidates and low turnout, local races largely determine how much we pay in taxes, how our children are educated and how extensive our fire and police protection is.

Some are skeptical that the energy and enthusiasm that drove larger candidate pools and voter turnout this year will continue for 2019.

"Voter fatigue in the U.S. is a good explanation for voter turnout numbers," said Scot Schraufnagel, political science department chairman at Northern Illinois University. "One of the predictors of low voter turnout is the frequency of elections. We vote more than any other country in the world, I think, other than Switzerland."

The number of candidates for local boards has been shrinking for at least a decade, a Daily Herald analysis shows. Along with choosing who'll serve on municipal boards and school boards, voters in 2019 will cast ballots for representatives on library, park district and fire protection boards.

In Cook, DuPage, Kane and Lake counties, the number of contested races dropped from 45 percent in 2009 to just 30.7 percent in 2017.

Also, the number of races without enough candidates to fill the seats available in those counties more than doubled, going from 70 such races in 2009 to 160 in 2017.

Political organizers say they are trying to seize the momentum from the recent election to attract more people to run for local offices.

"We hope the enthusiasm continues and we'll see how many we can get out to get interested in these posts," said Bob Peickert, chairman of the DuPage Democratic Party. "This is an opportunity to have some experience in local government, and they can get a better understanding of how government works. It is a form of minor leagues."

Schraufnagel said it's "conceivable" the so-called blue wave that helped Democrats seize a number of seats at all levels of the government would continue for the local election of 2019. But it's even more likely Republicans will use this opportunity to reinvigorate their ranks, he said. Both Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, and departing Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner have shared some of their war chests with township and county parties, which could help bolster future local government campaigns.

"Using local elections as a farm system dates back to the late 1970s for Republicans," Schraufnagel said. "This is a strategy that has been around for 30 or 40 years to groom them and train them."

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