Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Suburban voters -- do they even care?

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This could be one of the lowest voter turnouts in recent history, although the suburban elections in the so-called "off-year" elections is always low.

Maybe it is how we describe the elections that turns voters off. After all, voters are like sheep for the most part. They can't spell well enough to elect a write-in candidate, complain so much about the judicial system yet barely vote for judges, and they constantly whine about local suburban policies but don't waste their time to change it.

Although many people sacrificed their lives to protect their right to vote over the more than 235 years since this nation's founding, very few of the descendants of those who sacrificed bother to get up off their coaches to go to the polling place and cast a ballot.

So why do they complain about local government policies?

Part of the big problem is the Chicago news media that trivializes the suburban governments. The Downtown mainstream media rarely waste their time "covering" suburban communities. They offer hap-hazard coverage that only picks up steam when the media can find a controversy to milk.

It's a part of the media's fault and the public, like Pavlov's Dogs, just goes along and laps it all up. The media only covers suburban communities when they can rip apart a suburb over some scandal that usually is based on rumors or special interest lobbying.

The front page of the Chicago Tribune this morning featured a "story" about how the suburb of Bellwood took a bath when its $40 million plan for a new METRA station fell apart. What? Was that a breaking story yesterday? Duh! Hasn't anyone at the Tribune figured out that the country is in a major recession? It was a great idea, but it didn't work. And do you think the Chicago Tribune did anything to help the suburb make the station improvement happen? Of course not.

Bellwood barely gets any coverage in any major newspaper, unless some mobster is killed or some plan to make a community better doesn't live up to the expectations.

Yes, the big downtown news media doesn't waste its time covering communities like Bellwood on a day-to-day basis. They only cover it when they can write a story ripping it apart. It's one reason why I don't waste my time ready the daily newspapers any more. They just don't cover where I live enough to make subscribing to them worthwhile. (Which reminds me, the last five Sundays, my Chicago Tribune Sunday Paper remained covered in plastic, never opened and never read. I have to remind myself to cancel that drain on my budget!)

If the news media covered suburban communities more, and did a better job of doing so, maybe the people who live in the suburbs would have more self-esteem and get their lazy butts up to go out and vote. But people in the suburbs don't vote because 1) the media makes their suburban communities look worthless and 2) bashes their communities so much that it might make one question why they would even waste their time voting in a suburban election.

The reality is that the downtown media is missing the boat because, well, the downtown media lives (for the most part) in downtown Chicago. They have small bureaus in the suburbs but very little of the suburban news makes it in to the newspapers. Certainly very little of the good news get covered, except of course in suburban communities where the rich big shot newspaper moguls call home.

Here's how bad suburban voting has been over the years from the Cook County Clerk's web site going back to 1999 for the suburbs:

Turnout in Consolidated Elections 1999-2011

Year      Reg Voters     Ballots Cast     % Turnout
1999        1,334,905      263,452        19.7%
2001        1,302,197      377,595        29.0%
2003        1,321,089      300,484        22.7%
2005        1,418,280      382,587        27.0%
2007        1,371,803      236,050        17.2%
2009        1,463,070      304,766        20.8%

They are saying today's voter turnout will be under 20 percent. We'll see later tonight.

-- Ray Hanania

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