Hold elections when people vote

Hold elections when people vote

What if we held an election and nobody came? Last Tuesday's turnout shows it's more of a possibility than you might think.

On Tuesday, the voter non-turnout in Champaign County exceeded 87 percent. Just 14,467 voters (12.8 percent of those registered) bothered to cast ballots. Voter turnout in November 2012 was 69.9 percent, according to the Champaign County Clerk's office.

The stunningly low voter turnout was not a complete surprise. There were not a lot of high-profile competitive races. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing had an opponent, but there were no contested races for the city's seven aldermanic seats. In Champaign, four of the city's five district seats were not contested.

Spread across the county were scores of township and school board races as well as city council and village board seats.

But, suffice it to say, it was smorgasbord offering little of substance — low-profile offices, many of which are largely invisible to the public, that provided little competition.

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten, however, rejected suggestions that the turnout was disappointingly small across the board.

He cited a contested highway commissioner's race in Philo Township that produced 600 voters (44 percent turnout), all but four of whom voted in the highway commissioner's race.

"They all came out to vote for the highway commissioner," Hulten said.

He also noted the Rantoul mayor's race attracted 1,650 voters (24 percent) while contested races in Newcomb Township attracted 320 voters (35 percent).

But even those who find a 44 percent voter turnout exciting can still imagine that the public can do better and would do better if the Legislature didn't schedule low-profile races at a time when voters are not motivated by more important races.

Few people talk more about the sacred right to vote than our elected officials. They sometimes tell scare stories designed to make minority voters believe there is a plot to disenfranchise them. The reality is that few people in Illinois are more effective in discouraging voter turnout than state legislators who set the election schedule.

If greater turnout is the laudable goal our elected officials suggest, why not reschedule the off-year school and municipal consolidated election to the higher-profile, higher-turnout gubernatorial and presidential elections held in even-numbered years?

One can almost hear the objections cited by the supporters of the ineffective status quo — there would be so many more races for the voters to consider that they would be confused to the point of not completely filling out their ballots.

But how would that be worse than not voting at all, as is mostly the case now?

Hulten raised a practical objection to the idea of moving off-year elections to even-numbered years.

"At first glance, my concern is our ability to fit all of the offices in a single ballot (page)," he said, explaining that "multiple ballot pages are difficult to work with."

That's a legitimate concern, but certainly not one that defies solution.

Public interest in elections is by candidates, competitions and the offices at stake. Considered in that context, what would be wrong with combining elections for mayor, school board and city council with more important races for state Legislature, Congress, governor and president?

Supporters of the status quo like low-turnout races because it makes it easier for them to obtain and maintain power. But their concern ought not be the public's concern.

Good government depends on competitive elections and discerning voters. Incompetent and corrupt government thrives when few participate in the election process. A revised, sensible election schedule could encourage more of the former and less of the latter.

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

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Sid Saltfork wrote on April 14, 2013 at 2:04 pm

If people are so lazy, and inattenative; they deserve the government that they get.  Voting has been made easier, and easier.  It takes very little time.  If the low turnout happened, it is basically because of lazy non-voters.  What would get them to vote?  Twitter voting?

SaintClarence27 wrote on April 14, 2013 at 6:04 pm

It might have something to do with so few elections being contested - which is a problem in and of itself.

EL YATIRI wrote on April 15, 2013 at 9:04 am
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This is why I don't vote:  It is a meaningless waste of time.  The 2 party system is a sham democracy and uncontested seats are just one sign of how undemocratic our system really is.  My hope is that someday nobody will turn out to vote for presidential elections.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on April 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm
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The two parties have the law on their side, because they wrote the law.

It's a huge advantage.

Illini Libertarian wrote on April 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Voter turnout would greatly improve with the implementation of term limits for all elected officials. That would make for highly contested races, change the status quo, and put an end to career politicians.

SaintClarence27 wrote on April 15, 2013 at 11:04 am

So despite your libertarian slant, you're for the government intervening here?

bmwest wrote on April 14, 2013 at 10:04 pm
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I've often thought this myself.  It seems like a waste of time, money, and resources to hold such small turnout elections just a few months after a bigger one.  A solution to the issue of not fitting all the offices onto one ballot (beyond just dealing with it or changing the form size to accommodate) is to cut the number of tax districts.  I believe Illinois is tops in the nation for number of tax districts per capita which means more offices to vote on and monitor for wasteful spending.

In terms of lack of competition for races, I can attest to the difficulty with which it can be for a candidate to get on the ballot, having run for office last spring.  I think this can be solved by allowing at least 3 candidates to make it on the ballot as long as they indicate that they want to and aren't ineligible.  If more than 3 want on, the 3 spots go to the top signature getters.  And if they get at least x number of signatures, they get on even if they're not in the top 3.

I'm not sure term limits would do too much to introduce competition.  I think the politicians would just change the district boundaries so they're technically running for a different district or they'd rotate through several different units of government such as House, Senate, County Board, City Council, etc.

rsp wrote on April 15, 2013 at 1:04 am

They've made it too "easy". You don't have to think about who you are voting for because there aren't any choices, and if there are you haven't heard of them. They really don't want you to show up. Hulten's reasoning of having to fit everything on one page doesn't make any sense. 

jms wrote on April 15, 2013 at 9:04 am

this is the first election I ever missed. my friends and I talked about this on Saturday night around dinner. only one person was aware the election was being held last Tuesday. i didn't see signs for it or reminders to get out and vote. also, as an aside the News-Gazette also does a very poor job in reporting results of elections.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on April 15, 2013 at 11:04 am
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If all elections were combined, people wouldn't be any more informed about lesser races. They'd fill circles for preferred parties, or names that sound nice (Janice Hart and Mark J. Fairchild).