PEORIA, IL -- The primary election for the 18th Congressional District in Illinois takes place on July 7, with candidates running in both the Republican and Democratic parties. But how many people will vote?
It’s no secret! Voter turnout in almost every election is very low.
In Illinois voting is so easy now, with early voting and voting by mail. A person can now register and vote on election day.
Yet people don’t bother, even for highly contested races with loads of publicity. Why?
There are many theories.
- Civic engagement is believed to begin in the schools, but some Illinois schools don’t offer civics. That may change. Civics likely will now be required (if Gov. Rauner signs the required legislation), and there will be training for teachers to ensure students receive engaging instruction.
- People lack confidence in government. In Illinois, surveys show only 28 percent of the public trusts the government, the lowest in the U.S. The Paul Simon Institute found that 83 percent believe corruption is commonplace. So people figure voting is useless, or they don’t want to be involved.
- People are not reading newspapers and magazines, and know little about the issues. Or the issues are so complicated and boring they don’t bother to learn about them. So they don’t vote.
These were some of the ideas discussed at a recent League of Women Voters of Illinois conference, by a panel of experts. The legislature just voted to require civics, but what’s to be done about the widespread perception of corruption?
Two military retirees from Edgar County offered a fascinating insight into corruption. They returned to their family farms, got involved in their communities as volunteers, and noticed plenty of corruption in small town government: no bid contracts to insiders, conflicts of interest – you name it. People had shrugged it all off as the way things were done, they said. Voter turnout was low.
These two retirees are Kirk Allen and John Kraft, and their website is edgarcountywatchdogs.com.
Not so fast, they said. “The law applies equally to everyone,” became their motto. So far they have removed 120 public officials, they said, by holding them accountable to the law. Some resigned or were fired, others were removed by the voters who suddenly got interested in what was taking place.
Now they get hundreds of emails daily, they had to set up a second website, and have two court cases on appeal involving the Freedom of Information Act, they said. Their activities have spread to the region where they live, not just the county.
“Voting worked,” said Kraft. “People will run for office. You need contested races. They bring ideas to the table and turnout is higher.”
“Voting is the minimum,” said panelist Sean Healy who chairs the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition. He also favors citizen engagement.
Two groups I support work to promote voting. The League of Women Voters has long supported voting, of course, and works to register voters, hold candidate forums, and promote voting.
The American Civil Liberties Union supports voting rights, and will file suit to secure voting rights. It supports voting for ex-felons (Illinois already allows this), and wants the Voting Rights Act strengthened to stop voter suppression where it occurs.
Let's hope everyone votes on July 7, so the politicians know the citizens are watching.The primary winners will face each other on Sept. 10.
-- Elaine Hopkins