EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one half of part one of our Absent Voters series. Read the other half of part one looking at the numbers including voter turnout, contested races, and some theories as to why civic engagement is so low. The Northwest Herald examined data from the last 15 years of McHenry County-wide elections for federal, state and local offices to look at the trend of decline in civic participation.
As the Latino population grows in McHenry County, Maggie Rivera sees stalwartly Republican McHenry County becoming more competitive.
That shift will happen only if Rivera and others like her are successful in their efforts to get more Latinos – who made up 11.9 percent of the county population in 2014 – to the polls.
An estimated 24.4 percent of eligible Hispanic voters turned out in November 2014’s general election in Illinois, a much smaller percentage than the 41.7 percent overall turnout rate, according to a Census survey.
The overall turnout rate was 48.9 percent in McHenry County for the same election, which included the race for Illinois governor, according to the McHenry County Clerk’s Office.
Rivera, a Crystal Lake resident who serves as vice president for the Midwestern region of the anti-discriminatory organization League of United Latin American Citizens, hears the same thing when she talks to potential voters.
“ ‘We don’t make a difference. Our vote doesn’t count.’ Things like that,” Rivera said. “It’s like, ‘What does it matter? They’re going to do what they’re going to do.’ ”
Two groups that have had success in getting people out to vote are the McHenry County Concealed Carry Association and Right to Life McHenry County, groups that center on issues that tie into voters’ core values as Americans and fundamentals such as life and death, their leaders said.
“It’s not the gun [that turns people out to vote],” said Mickey Schuch, president of the McHenry County Concealed Carry Association. “It’s not a block of steel. Just as your pen isn’t what makes you a journalist. It’s not your keyboard. It’s the idea in your head. A gun is an extension of liberty. It’s a tool.”
Right to Life McHenry County also has put a focus on local elections – which have even lower turnout rates – because those seats often serve as a stepping stone to the state or federal level, said Irene Napier, the group’s president emeritus and founder.
“[The issue’s influence in McHenry County politics] certainly makes candidates pause,” she said. “They have to give this issue serious consideration and take a stand and be willing to say proudly however they feel about it, be willing to justify it because they get cornered. We corner them.”
Napier doesn’t think it’s a problem that some issues – particularly one as important as she sees abortion as – have out-sized weight. Schuch doesn’t think it’s a problem that voters aren’t necessarily representative of the population.
“This is what men and women have fought and died for,” he said. “You don’t even need to show you can exist. You can sign up to vote at polling places.
“For people not to appreciate that, why should we care what you have to say if you cannot involve yourself in that process? If you don’t want a voice, don’t have a voice. If you do want a voice, have a voice.”
It’s not as simple as that, said Woodstock resident Carlos Acosta, former executive director of the McHenry County Hispanic Coalition.
The information about how voting has gotten easier has not been disseminated, he said, pointing to states that saw huge jumps in voting after the advertisement of mail-in voting to immigrant populations.
ABSENT VOTERS SERIES:
• McHenry County voter interest declines over decade — A look at the numbers including voter turnout, contested races, and some theories as to why civic engagement is so low
• McHenry County sees low Latino turnout, strong guns, anti-abortion support — How residents who have high and low civic engagement are disproportionately represented at the polling place.
• Apathy can cause tie votes, misrepresentation, McHenry County officials say — A lack of voters is compounded by a lack of candidates for many local elected offices, which in turn leads to a lack of choices and accountability.
• McHenry County's uncontested elections spark lack of accountability — What are the results for communities when voters won’t participate in elections?
• McHenry County agencies aim to boost turnout by registering, informing citizens — What's being done on the federal, state and local levels to encourage more participation in government?