Suburban elections: Offices on ballot crucial, turnout ‘pitiful’
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporter April 9, 2013 12:19PM
Robin Kelly with campaign staff outside the Richton Park Metra station after thanking voters, Wednesday February 27, 2013. | Stefano Esposito~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: April 9, 2013 10:46PM
Turnout was mostly poor Tuesday as hundreds of local elected posts were up for grabs in the suburbs.
“That’s pitiful,” Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots said. “This is the most important election.”
From tax rates and public improvements to basic services such as snow plowing, residents will see the day’s balloting having a direct impact on their lives. Local units of government with slots being filled Tuesday have control over an estimated $1 billion in public money.
“There is no reason they should not vote,” Voots said. “With the economy the way it is right now, you think people would get out and vote.”
From Mettawa to Villa Park, from North Chicago to south suburban Dolton, a slew of mayoral races have been brewing throughout the Chicago area in preparation for Tuesday’s election.
Roughly three-quarters of the area’s suburbs elected mayors or village presidents on Tuesday, and more than 100 of those were contested races. Hundreds of other offices were also up for grabs, including trustee and aldermen posts and township, library board, park district and school board spots.
The Cook County Clerk’s office said overall turnout was 18 percent throughout the county, though some heated contests saw more than 40 percent turnout.
In the Chicago portion of the 2nd Congressional District, only eleven percent of registered voters had turned up at the polls, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
In Will County turnout was just under 17 percent.
Cook County Clerk David Orr said 63 percent of races in Tuesday’s election were uncontested, which resulted in a lot of empty polling places.
“It varies dramatically. You might get 20 percent turnout for all of suburban Cook, but it dramatically varies,” Orr said. “The places I visited today, Melrose Park, Oak Park, Oak Lawn, they are municipal races that are contested and those are the races that will drive the most turnout.”
Turnout in DuPage County was just under 17 percent.
Right now it’s indicative of a low-volume election, which I think everyone expected,” Bob Saar, executive director of the DuPage Election Commission said Tuesday morning. The local consolidated contests typically draw between 19 percent and 23 percent turnout, he said. “I don’t see anything that says we’re going to see anything more than the normal.”
In Cook County, Orr said he estimates 12,000 voters had requested absentee mail ballots, and about 7,000 have already come in. Voters had until Monday to postmark their ballot, and those numbers will be counted this week.
There weren’t any major polling equipment failures, he said, except for at a Thornton Township polling location. A clerk’s office employee apparently noticed that one of the touchscreen voting machines was unplugged.
In Country Club Hills, two precincts fought over a very crowded and small polling place in the suburb’s police station.
In Will County,Voots had to force her way into a polling place in the Naperville portion of Wheatland Township when she found the doors were locked. Election judges were supposed to start their day at 5 a.m. to set up, but the Tall Grass Clubhouse at 3324 Deering Bay Drive was closed when she stopped by to vote.
After consulting with the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office, Voots authorized her field technician to break into the building. He used a screw driver to pry the lock open, she said. All the alarms were set off in the building, but the judges were able to get in and open on time so no voters were turned away, Voots said.
“We did get it open,” Voots said. “In the long run, it turned out pretty good.”
Voots predicted late last week that 18 percent of the voters would weigh in on Tuesday’s decisions. By comparison, the last presidential election drew 71 percent, she said.
In west suburban Aurora, two hotly contested races are expected to bring out voters. The at-large race between incumbents Bob O’Connor and Rick Lawrence has drawn the most attention at the city level. O’Connor has served seven terms in his at-large seat while Lawrence is the current alderman from the 4th Ward. Also, both East and West Aurora school board have weathered much controversy within the past two years as parents questioned both district’s board and administrations openness and responsiveness to the community on a variety of issues from finances to staffing.
Contributing: Sun-Times Media staff reports