Local elections have big impact on tax bills, but few vote
Everyone who tells Mundelein Mayor Steve Lentz they voted for him two years ago hears the same thing.
"I always tell them, 'thanks for putting me over the edge,'" he said. "It's sobering to think that every one of those stories turns out to be the edge."
Five votes was the edge Lentz needed in his successful 2017 re-election bid.
"If those five hadn't gone out to vote, or three of them had voted a different way, this would be a different conversation," he said.
Squeakers like that aren't that uncommon, especially in local elections like the one on Tuesday when the number of eligible voters is small in any given race and the number of voters who actually cast ballots is even smaller. Ties are not unheard of. Coin flips decided mayoral races in Huntley and Geneva in 1985 and 1995, respectively. A Ping-Pong ball with a candidate's name written on it was pulled out of a bag to determine the winner of a Warrenville aldermanic race in 2001.
In some races, only a few hundred ballots will be cast.
"Each vote is more important in these types of races," said Phil Hardy, associate professor of political science at Benedictine University in Lisle.
"Overall, turnout drops from presidential election years to midterms and then to the local elections, where it can be very bad," he said. "It's a real uphill climb to get people to turn out in a local contest."
That's a shame, because local elections have a big effect on property taxes, Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham points out. Schools take the biggest chunk of suburban property taxes, and their boards are up for election Tuesday.
"We'll be lucky to get 15 percent turnout and these are the races that affect your tax bill more than anything," said Cunningham, whose office handles the county's elections.
The last day to request a mail-in ballot was Thursday. Early voting continues through Monday. Cunningham said nearly 6,800 early votes had been cast in Kane County with about 500 of the 1,180 mailed ballots returned by voters.
Most county election officials are reporting early voting and mail-in vote totals on par with previous local elections, but there also are many more registered voters than in previous elections, which means turnout will likely be down, they said.
"We're hoping to hit the number we had in the last local election, the only thing that's different is we have 20,000 additional voters since 2017," said Chuck Pelkie, chief of staff to Will County Clerk Lauren Staley Ferry.
In Cook County, more than 37,000 early votes had been cast by Thursday and election officials had mailed 16,532 ballots. DuPage County election officials reported more than 12,000 early voting ballots cast and mailed 5,500 ballots to voters. More than 2,200 early votes were cast in McHenry County by Thursday with less than 200 mail-in ballots returned so far. In Lake County, about 8,500 voters have cast early ballots and roughly 3,700 of the 7,250 mailed ballots have been returned, officials said. Will County officials reported 5,000 ballots have been cast by early voters and less than half the 6,800 mailed ballots have been returned.
More local races are contested in the suburbs this year than in 2017 and 2015, according to a recent Daily Herald analysis. In some counties more than 40 percent of the races will be contested, compared to less than 30 percent two years ago.
Candidates who have survived close calls all agree the most effective way to sway an undecided voter or convince an apathetic voter to cast a ballot is personal contact.
"The thing that put me over the top was going door-to-door," said Barrington Hills Trustee Bob Zubak, who finished third in a seven-way race for three seats in 2017 by 15 votes. "And that can be time consuming here because going door-to-door in Barrington Hills means driving a lot."
Republican state Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine echoed that sentiment. He survived his re-election bid last November by just 43 votes.
"I remember telling one man who said he wasn't going to vote that he needed to even if it wasn't for me because people had fought and died to protect his right to vote," Morrison said. "He just didn't believe his vote was going to matter."
With such low voter turnout, Hardy said there's potential for a greater problem.
"You could argue you don't actually have representative government if you don't have enough people actually vote," he said. "And these are people dealing with really important issues that most voters take for granted or don't understand how significant the policies that are made are to them."
How to vote
•Early voting continues through Monday, with some early voting sites open until 7 p.m.
•Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day
•You can register and cast a vote at the same time at early voting sites and on Election Day. Bring two forms of ID, one with your address.
See your county clerk's website for poll locations and more information.