Local Editorials

Our View: Exploring ways to increase voters

The statistics are depressing when it comes to elections in McHenry County.

Nearly 57 percent of seats up for election in last April’s consolidated election had only one candidate running.

Voter turnout in that same election was 10.9 percent.

Between 2000 and 2015, 47.5 percent of seats in consolidated elections were uncontested.

In 2014, when now Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, promised to shake up Springfield, primary turnout in GOP-dominated McHenry County was 17 percent.

Only 25.2 percent of voters cast ballots in 2001, which was the largest turnout during the 15-year period the Northwest Herald analyzed in our three-day series Absent Voters.

Hard to believe we pine for the days of 25 percent turnout. That’s the reality, however. Civic engagement is dismal. It starts with lawmakers drawing their own legislative districts to choose their voters and to limit competition, and it ends with nobody voting. That’s democracy in 2016.

State government in recent years has made efforts to increase turnout, although the argument can be made it was done more for political reasons than civic engagement reasons.

As one of his last acts in office, former Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation extending grace-period voting through election day and expanding the number of early voting days and locations.

We’d like to offer a few more suggestions for increasing voter turnout:

• Government consolidation: There is no way that voters can educate themselves on the issues if they have up to a dozen local races with dozens of candidates running.

• Redistricting reform: The power to draw state and federal legislative districts after each U.S. Census should be taken out of the hands of lawmakers and put into the hands of an independent commission.

• Voting centers: This concept rejects the traditional neighborhood precinct, and allows voters to cast their ballots at any vote center in the election authority’s jurisdiction, regardless of residential address. Illinois should explore – not mandate – allowing local jurisdictions to consider the concept if they so choose.

• Term limits: The Illinois General Assembly, or at bare minimum its legislative leaders, should be term-limited.

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