Another ho-hum spring election

A handful of voters are electing mayors and city council and school board members. It's time to shake up the system.

Champaign-Urbana residents who are still hung over from all the noise generated by the November elections won't have to worry about similar histrionics in the spring elections — at least not in the contests for school board.

Seven seats are up for election to the Urbana school board while five board seats will be filled by the voters in Champaign.

Unfortunately, six of the seven district races in Urbana are uncontested. In Champaign, seven candidates are vying for five seats.

That's not much of a choice, particularly in Urbana. What makes that lack of interest in Urbana even harder to take is that it's the result of the foolish district system approved by voters in an effort to generate more participation, not less, in board elections.

This sorry story comes under the category of the law of unintended consequences.

Time was when Urbana school board candidates ran under an at-large system, and the races could be lively. That led to complaints that too many people who lived too close together were getting elected. Critics of the at-large election proposed that the city be divided into board districts, theoretically giving voters a chance to elect someone from their general neighborhood to the board.

It sounded reasonable in theory. Unfortunately, since Urbana voters approved the district plan in 1998, candidates in the district races run mostly unopposed. RIP voter choice.

Champaign has at-large elections for the school board, and the number of candidates varies from election to election. Sometimes there are more, this year there are less. But voters there still have more choice than in Urbana.

As far as choice goes, that's what brings voters to the polls. So why not broaden the choices and get real turnout in municipal and school board races?

The undisputed facts are that spring elections in Illinois produce embarrassingly low voter turnout.

That's why it's time for the General Assembly to consider moving spring elections in off years to coincide with the November elections in even years. That would generate far more turnout for important local offices and reduce the costs of conducting elections, particularly elections in which few actually participate.

Of course, connected politicos like low-turnout elections because that means they need fewer voters to put their choices in office. That's why Illinois holds primary elections in even years during the cold-weather month of March rather than in May or June, when more people would come out.

Illinois is way past the point of being able to afford unnecessary election cycles. Why not combine them, save money and generate more voter participation in contests for local office?

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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