Monday, March 23, 2009

With few exceptions, voter turnout in suburban elections will be low

Once again, important local elections in most Chicagoland suburbs will be anti-climactic with the incumbents sweeping the polls and returning to office.

It's not because they have all done such a good job. It is because voters in the Chicagoland suburbs are both apathetic and confused.

Didn't we just vote for President Barack Obama to replace the nation's historicaly least liked and least effective President George W. Bush? Why do we have to vote again? Remind me?

The fact is the elecion system is made intentionally by the government to be confusing and to foster apathy. Low voter turnout in suburban elections has been the rule, with only few exceptions.

Here's the system we have now: The most important election is the election for President and major statewide offices. Voters go to the polls in larger numbers at this election.

Local officials through their state obfuscators -- also called legislators in the state House and Senate -- made sure to separate the national elections from the local elections, they claimed, because it was tooc onfusing for voters.

Too confusing?

The year after the presidential elections -- last March (in Illinois but earlier and later in other states) and in November, voters voted for president and the Congress. This February and now April 7, in Illinois, voters will vote for local government officials like village President and city mayor in the suburbs.

There are no elections in Chicago, where the media focus is intense. And media coverage which drives voter awareness, is lacking in the suburban elections reflecting a "who cares?" attitude. Any media coverage will be token and local.

So, if you are a voter, no one in the media is paying attention to your local suburban election, which means you will not get much awareness nor background information on the candidates. And that means the lower the voter turnout, the better it is for the incumbents. The supporters of incumbents who usually have jobs beholden to the incumbents, vote. And there are a lot of them usually reflecting the employee base of a village where incumbents usually sweep the majority of votes, as much as 95 percent. And so do their families and their friends. The supporters of the challengers, who usually are not beholden to the challenger for their jobs, may vote.

The local incumbents, who get ver little real journalism scrutiny -- most suburban papers publish "happy talk" features about how great the incumbents are in order to reduce animosity that might result on losing advertising (in today's repressive economic situation, it's even worse).

On top of all this, the election process is even more confusing. The "consolidated election" process has made public participation even less likely because no one knows when to vote. Cosnolidated elections mean that primariues have been eliminated and candidates (usually incumbents) who get 50 percent plus 1 vote are declared the winners in what used to be the Primary election date. (A primary used to be when members of an established party select their candidates from a field of candidates from within their party who then run in the general election representing their party.)

It isn't like that everywhere. So media coverage of those contests confuse the public into believing elections are over.

What should be done? We should have one election for every office in the country on the same dates. A Primary and a General Election. One year every four years, except for Congress, which would be every two years. Make special elections on the off years for Congress for those offices where vacancies have occurred at least three months before the Congressional elections.

If the suburban elections had taken place last November, almost 50 percent of incuments who have been challenged in the elections -- many are never challenged and run-unopposed -- would be defeated and replaced by fresh faces, fresh voices, fresh ideas and office holders who at least going into the system will be more likely to champion the needs of the voters and the public rather than line their own pocketbooks.

-- Ray Hanania

No comments: