Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Things I have learned about suburban elections

Today is suburban election day: Here are some things I have learned over the years as a political reporter about suburban elections:

Early voting or absentee voting usually is an indicator of how many "activists" are actually out there working, mixed in with who will be on vacation during the election. Especially now with early voting, the candidates and their precinct workers will get the voting out of the way so they can concentrate on placing signs at polling places (some will be out there ripping down signs. Tsk! Tsk!).

Signs don't vote. No matter how many signs you see, it's rarely an indicator by itself of a candidate's ability to win or to lose. The signs on the parkways and mainstreets are usually a turnoff to most voters. The public really hates to see candidate signs on the side of a major road, empty prairie or shuttered business lined up like an endless advertisement.

Signs on a front lawn usually do suggest a real-live voter. Although the voter is usually either a candidate, a relative of a candidate, or a worker for a candidate. Sometimes, they are voters who just don't want to argue with the people bringing the signs.

Lots of strangers will be walking through the neighborhood on election day. Be kind. When they come up to ask you for directions, help them get back to their Chicago-based Machine Ward havens. There are outside forces from Chicago's Tax-the-hell-outta-ya Machine battling to take control of several suburbs, and some like Orland Park, Oak Lawn and a few others will have Chicago precinct captains crawling over them like ants.

Suburban turnout is always low. One thing that happens when you run from Chicago -- either as a result of White Flight in the late 1960s; Black Flight in the late 1980s; or Fireman and Policeman flight (ever since the residency rules were created to keep mostly White residents int he city) -- you lose the motivation to vote or participate in local elections. In fact, suburban elections usually have the lowest voter turnouts.

No matter how technologically advanced we become as a society, politicians are usually the last to get on the train. You can tell which candidates use technology (and reach a growing audience in the public) and which rely on the old fashioned, and increasingly ineffective, direct mail.

Newspapers are losing more and more of their clout. Instead of leading, they are back-patting. Instead of criticizing -- an integral part of an accountable government-public system -- they are always praising. No substance. Just a lot of blah!

Although you couldn't convince the incumbents of this, the fact is the more controversy there is in an election, the more the people become aware and motivated to vote. Controversy is what stimulates people to think, not blah articles that so obviously pat some politician's ass or strokes a candidate's ego. Controversy usually means that issues are being debated and discussed. Happy talk means people are sleeping. It's one reason why the print newspaper business is dying.

Being challenged is not only good for a community, it is good for the incumbent politicians. But I stress, elections where offices are challenged are good for the community, the public, the homeowners and the taxpayers. Those communities where incumbent bullies have kicked challengers off ballots are where most of the corruption residue and scum settle each year. Where the taxes are the highest. Where the corruption is the greatest. Where the politicians have denied their publics the ability to participate.

If you have a contested election in your community, you are lucky. It means candidates and media care -- willingly or by force -- about what you think.

Despite the loopholes, hassles, mud, namecalling, anger -- some politicians need to go to anger management classes -- you have to give credit to everyone who runs for office. Those in office and those out. And, you must give credit to the registered voters who will take the time to vote today (or who voted at early voting).

-- Ray Hanania

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