UI student seeking write-in votes to challenge Rose for Senate seat

UI student seeking write-in votes to challenge Rose for Senate seat

A 20-year-old University of Illinois nutrition student will be going head to head against state Sen. Chapin Rose for the 51st Illinois Senate seat in November.

That is, if he can get at least 1,000 supporters to write him in for the March Democratic primary.

"That's as I understand it," said Ben Chapman, who explained there's a way for him to get on the ballot even without the write-in votes. The Democratic parties of Champaign, Piatt, Dewitt, Macon, Douglas and Shelby counties could also nominate him as their candidate.

In that event, he would still need to gather 1,000 petition signatures by June, according to Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten.

The Mahomet native, though, is confident that his grass-roots campaign will convince Democrats in the 51st that he is the right choice to go up against five-year incumbent Rose.

In an announcement of his write-in candidacy in mid-January, Chapman said Rose's district "deserves to be represented by someone who listens to their constituents and acts in their service — not just in the service of their party leadership." He wants to be an option on the ballot for "progressive reform" and new ideas.

He's under no illusions that it will be an easy run, he said. He's not even asking for money yet, saying that he will wait until after the primary to ask for donations. This phase of his campaign will be out of his own pocket.

But he said he's driven by a love for politics that has burgeoned over the past year.

"The driving reason was that he was unchallenged," Chapman said. "This is sort of my way of keeping my state senator accountable. I don't want my campaign to be a reaction to Rose or Trump. I have ideas that I think are winning ideas, that are new ideas."

Chapman is a junior at the UI and co-chairman of the Political Action Committee of the Students for Environmental Concerns, his foray into political activism. He learned about campaigning from his work with the Democrat Jon Ebel, who's running for Congress, and got a lot of advice from him and his staff.

He's running to win, Chapman said, on ideas that he feels will resonate with people in the 51st Senate District. He plans to knock on doors and learn about the issues that matter to voters.

A letter to the editor he wrote to The News-Gazette in September 2017 sheds some light into the issue he feels most passionate about: electoral reform.

"Our current Electoral College," he wrote, "where 48 of 50 states use a 'winner-take-all' system for awarding electoral votes, is not a compromise: It's an affliction."

He said the 51st is a district "designed to go to Republicans," and that the state seems to be designed for Chicagoans, ignoring most of central Illinois. He wants to make sure people's voices are heard just as loudly as they are in Cook County and in swing states. He'd like to see a rank-based electoral system come to the U.S., where a voter ranks the candidates in order of preference.

As a nutrition student, he said he's passionate about engendering a healthful society and views the opioid epidemic as the No. 1 example of the state failing to look south of Chicagoland. He also believes it's among the toughest challenges for future lawmakers.

"There's a large part of the population suffering from opioid addiction in Chicago," he said. "But when you look at the statistics, there's a lot of room for improvement in Chicago. But in some places, like Vermilion County, there are similar rates of opioid addiction and nowhere near the resources that can be found in Chicago."

Chapman acknowledged the race will be difficult to run while still attending classes. He also knows his age will be a deterrent to some people.

"But being a representative is more about listening than talking," he said. "It's more about having integrity and a motive to serve and do what's right. To have a compassion and help people. To try to meet them where they're at and say that you know what they're feeling, and you'll do whatever you can to help them. I think anyone can do it at any age."