Kadner: A lot at stake in suburban races
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org April 1, 2013 10:56PM
Orland Park/101210- Voters line up for early voting at the Orland Park Village Hall in Orland Park, Illinois Tuesday October 12, 2010. jm101210 news/TIN_earlyvote_P4 (SouthtownStar/ Joseph P. Meier)
Updated: May 3, 2013 6:11AM
An awful lot is at stake in next Tuesday’s municipal elections.
Your child’s education, the safety of your streets, snow removal, street repair, fire protection and one more thing you may care about.
Taxes levied by school districts typically represent more than 60 percent of a homeowner’s property tax bill.
If there’s one thing I know about people living in the suburbs, it’s that they hate the property tax.
But when I visited the early-voting location in Orland Park on Monday, I almost expected to see cobwebs covering touch-screen machines.
Fewer than 800 people had cast ballots during the seven days that early voting has been open at the township hall in Orland Park.
One of the few people who voted Monday was longtime Orland Park resident Ruth Vogel.
“Remember what it was like last fall?” Vogel asked. “The lines went around the entire hallway.”
There were hundreds of people standing in line to vote early in November. But that was for a presidential election.
Say what you will about the billions of dollars spent on negative TV commercials, the fact is they get people to the polls.
In theory, local elections are supposed to be where voters exert their will on the electoral process with little outside influence
Congressmen are always talking about letting voters decide the important issues at the local level because they best know what’s best for their community.
I don’t buy it. I would be hard-pressed to identify a local school board member if I bumped into one at a supermarket.
Cook County Clerk David Orr, the official election authority in suburban Cook County, recently noted that out of 133 township offices on the ballot next Tuesday only 27 are contested. That means 79.7 percent of all township races on the ballot are uncontested.
There are 466 municipal offices on ballots throughout Cook County (mayor, village clerk, aldermen, trustees), but only 198 involve an election contest.
And for all the outcry about a high property tax and public schools failing to educate children, nearly 60 percent of all school board elections are uncontested in the Cook County suburbs.
Jim Leib was handing out campaign literature Monday for candidates running in the Orland School District 135 election in the parking lot of the Orland Township Hall. He said he hadn’t seen many voters.
“This is my third day, and I would say at least half the people coming here to vote were from Tinley Park,” Leib said. “That must be one heck of a mayoral contest out there.”
The Orland Park early-voting location also serves the Cook County portion of Tinley Park.
While the Orland Park site has typically had the highest early-voter turnout in all of suburban Cook County, the Matteson Village Hall this time has generated more than 11,000 early votes, about 300 more than Orland Park.
A spokeswoman for Orr’s office attributed that to the 2nd Congressional District special election to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. Robin Kelly, the Democratic candidate, and independent candidate Marcus Lewis both live in Matteson.
The argument for low voter turnout in municipal elections is often that people don’t vote if they’re happy. Orr made that argument on Monday.
“I don’t like to generalize about voter turnout in municipal elections because it varies so much depending on whether you have contested races,” he said, noting that in some suburbs have had a turnout as high as 50 percent in the past but others have seen it as low as 3 percent when there were no contested races.
“You can’t even draw an inference from the lack of contested races,” Orr said. “People may simply be happy with their mayors and school board members.”
I don’t think people are happy. And with turnout typically low in suburban races, people can make a difference by voting.
They could change things simply by running for office themselves.
There are 12 elections for fire protection district boards in suburban Cook County, and only two of them have more candidates than seats at stake.
Those races have the potential to impact ambulance service, fire safety and tax bills. But these are not glamorous political jobs. They don’t pay big money.
Hardly anyone ever attends fire protection district board meetings. So the people who run usually have a very personal interest in sitting on such a board.
There’s a 19th century view of local elections as involving people in the community who personally know every candidate, feel strongly about the issues and can tell you exactly why they’re voting.
Maybe that’s still true in some small Nebraska farm town, but here in the suburbs of Chicago people rarely have that sort of vested interest in local politics.
There’s a lot of complaining about water rates, fee hikes, traffic, crime and abandoned storefronts (depending on what suburb you live in), but when it comes to voting or running for office most people are too busy.
Yet the sales of iPads, iPhones, video game systems and big-screen TV sets would indicate that maybe people do have time to do other things.
It gets down to this: Most people don’t consider local elections very important.
They’re boring. All these local taxing districts do is spend many millions of dollars on things that effect you every day.
I would’ve thought the use of red-light cameras alone would upset people enough that they would storm their local polling places in revolt.
It’s not even an issue in any of the local races in the Southland.
I’m not suggesting that democracy is dead in the suburbs. But there sure is something zombie-like about the process.