Column: Lack of contested races supressing voter turnout

Today's election likely to follow example of poor participation numbers in past municipal elections

voter turnout
There was not exactly a line out the door to vote early Tuesday evening at Elmhurst City Hall. (Elmhurst Titan photo by Dave Lemery)

ELMHURST – I had an expected, yet still frustrating, experience when I voted Tuesday morning.

Most of the races on the ballot were uncontested. The winner was decided long before I had a chance to get involved in the process.

I suppose some people might be pleased by that, thinking that every uncontested race is one less decision to have to make. We all have too many choices we face in our lives, right?

The problem is, these are really important decisions, decisions that are supposed to be made by you, me, our neighbors and coworkers, about who will get to spend our tax dollars. About who gets to decide how our communities will be run. About how our children will be educated.

If you’re thinking that there was a primary election where I still could’ve had a say – sorry, not this time. DuPage County did run a primary election back in February, but the only contested races were in places like Winfield and Naperville.

Low voter turnout a problem for democracy

This is a real problem for a variety of reasons. Maybe all those unopposed candidates truly are the best people for those jobs. I’m sure that at least some of them are quite excellent at what they do. But the aggregate effect of all these nonraces has a corrosive effect on democracy itself.

Voter turnout is highest for presidential elections. The 2016 vote garnered a 57 percent turnout rate nationwide, 70 percent in DuPage County.

Next highest are elections for statewide officials. The 2014 midterms, in which Bruce Rauner was elected governor of Illinois, had just a 36 percent voter turnout rate nationwide, about 40 percent in Illinois and 49 percent in DuPage County.

The municipal elections, however, are a disaster for voter turnout. The 2015 number for DuPage was 17 percent; in 2013, it was about 19 percent.

That means that if the 2015 numbers hold true, then about 83 percent of eligible voters in DuPage County opted not to make use of their voting rights today.

Traditionally, this is the part of this column where I would lambaste the voters for failing to do their civic duty. But I get it. Probably most of you voted in a municipal election once or twice in your life, and you were discouraged from ever doing it again. Maybe you got to weigh in on a referendum you hadn’t previously heard about. Maybe you saw a list of names for school board and didn’t really know what set them apart. But worst of all, you probably saw line after line of races where there was no choice.

One seat, one candidate. Two seats, two candidates. Three seats, three candidates.

Few races in Elmhurst

In Elmhurst, Mayor Steven Morley will be re-elected without opposition. Clerk Patty Spencer and Treasurer Elaine Libovicz will be re-elected without opposition. City Council members Marti Deuter, Norman Leader, Michael Bram and Kevin York are all unopposed. New candidates Tina Park and Mike Brennan, unopposed.

On the District 205 School Board, there were supposed to be four candidates for three seats, but one candidate moved away, and now there’s no choice.

Again, this is not to say that any of these unopposed candidates are wrong for their jobs or that there was definitely some better choice out there. But voting is about making decisions, and in these races there were none for voters to make.

So what could you actually vote for? Some township races. Some propositions in Addison Township, all of them advisory issues. A single City Council seat. Three candidates for two seats on the Park District board. Three candidates for two seats on the College of DuPage Board.

Flagging interest from voters

I can’t say I blame someone for looking at the ballot in the past few weeks and deciding that there just wasn’t enough at stake to bother. The items that were actually contested were important. But they were outnumbered by theoretically higher profile “races” that did nothing to get someone to take time away from work or get up earlier in the morning and hit the ballot box.

If we’re going to fix the problem of low voter turnout in non-presidential elections, it’s probably going to take a whole host of solutions. But one of the big ones has to be having more candidates on the ballot. Otherwise, any other effort is probably moot.


Dave Lemery is the editor and publisher of The Elmhurst Titan. New tips, advice and all other inquiries are welcome at dlemery@elmhurst-titan.com or 331-209-8471.

Consolidated General Election Statistics by The Elmhurst Titan on Scribd

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