by Jennifer McMahon, Director of Human Resources at the City of St. Charles firstname.lastname@example.org
A municipal election is not too far off here in St. Charles—it’s April 4, 2017. And unfortunately, since it doesn’t coincide with the national election in November, that means we can expect lower voter turnout for our local election. According to research done by the University of Wisconsin in 2014, there has been a decline in voter turnout for local elections in odd-numbered years over the previous decade and trends indicate that it will get worse.
Historically, the lowest voter turnout has been for your locally elected officials like your mayor, aldermen, and city clerk. These elected officials, however, have the most direct impact on your lives. Each month, they are setting policy, approving ordinances, and adopting resolutions that affect how you can use your property, where a business opens up, when a roadway is reconstructed, or what you’ll pay in utilities. This paradox further expands when reviewing a 2015, Gallup poll showing that citizens have the most trust in their locally elected officials over state or federally elected officials. Finally, local elections are where voter turnout has the most impact. Zoltan Hajnal, author of America’s Uneven Democracy, conducted research indicating that, at the national level, a change in voter turnout would have little to no effect on who wins. However, his research also showed that who wins and who loses at the local level is shaped by who votes.
So why do citizens have the most trust in the locally elected officials who have the most direct impact on their lives, choose to participate in local elections at a rate of less than 10% in some municipalities? While there are no data-supported answers, the leading theory is apathy. Research does show that the best way to combat apathy for local elections is to have them coincide with national elections. So what will happen in April when the mayoral and four aldermanic seats are up for election? Will you travel the short distance to your polling place and cast a vote? If the answer is no, ask yourself why.
Are you not registered? Registering to vote is easy and painless. You can do it online by going to the Illinois Online Voter Application available at the State Board of Elections – https://ova.elections.il.gov. You can also go to City Hall, the library, or the township office or you can do it by mail. To register, complete the registration form and provide two forms of identification. Acceptable forms of identification can be found at the Kane County Clerk’s website at www.kanecountyelections.org. Are you registered and you don’t know where to vote or know you will be out of town on Election Day? The Kane County Clerk’s office can help with that too. Visit their website to learn where your polling place is and where early voting places are located. If you need assistance voting, their offices can help with that too. Are you unsure who is running for what? You can visit the same website to see a candidate list and even look at your ballot.
Voting is easy and simple. And at the local level it has a huge impact. As Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Voting in your local elections is an excellent way to do that.