Local elections are about a month away. Once again we will be asked to choose elected officials who will make decisions in our villages, schools and park district. We care deeply about the future, and making sure we prepare our children for whatever challenges lie ahead. And, presumably, one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that the right people are in charge of those local governments that have the biggest effect on our day-to-day lives.
But will we all show up at the polls to help select our leaders?
The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.
Election season is a special time in Munchkin Land.
From their earliest years, Munchkins know the importance of voting and how a strong electorate is the key to stability in their tiny, well-kept towns.
“We are small but mighty,” the mayor of Munchkin City told the assembled throng at a torchlight election rally. “Together we are strong and will prepare our young Munchkins for the rigors that lie ahead.”
Truth be told, it hasn’t been the easiest time in Munchkin Land. Some residents were so alarmed by the elevation of a loud, orange-haired Supreme Wizard that they donned pink hats for a giant rally in the big city to the north. Others are looking southward, to the state capital, where a budget fiasco, sparked by warring wizards, is about to enter its third year.
But Munchkins are nothing if not resilient.
“People think we are all about singing and dancing,” the mayor proclaimed. “We know otherwise. Nobody is tougher than Munchkins when we work together. That’s why we all need to vote.”
With that, the Munchkins — young and old and all wearing brightly-colored clothing — linked arms and marched through town, resolute and ready to take on the future.
Our own local elections are about a month away. Once again we will be asked to choose elected officials who will make decisions in our villages, schools and park district.
Like our friends the Munchkins, we care deeply about the future, and making sure we prepare our children for whatever challenges lie ahead. And, presumably, one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that the right people are in charge of those local governments that have the biggest effect on our day-to-day lives.
After all, our local elected officials are the people who pass budgets, choose executive leadership and set policy for those governmental units that receive the biggest chunk of our property taxes. (And, as I write, I am completely aware that our property taxes are due at the beginning of March.)
Here’s the problem. Most of us don’t vote in local elections. Time and again, the turnout in local school and municipal elections barely tops 20 percent of registered voters.
It’s enough to make a Munchkin start cussing a blue streak.
Two years ago there were eight candidates running for four board seats in H-F High School District 233, which has 32,550 registered voters. According to the Cook County Clerk’s Office, a total of 4,573 ballots were cast for a turnout of 14.05 percent.
In Flossmoor School District 161, with six candidates running for three board seats, there were 20,726 registered voters and 3,126 ballots cast, a 15.08 percent turnout.
In Flossmoor, four candidates ran for three village board seats. There were 7,696 registered voters and 1,577 ballots cast, a 20.49 percent turnout.
Homewood (14,441 registered voters), and Homewood School District 153 (13,866) had uncontested elections in 2015 and that likely pushed down turnout. Last year, however, a total of 6,535 District 153 voters cast ballots in a referendum that allowed the school system to sell $9 million in bonds. That’s an indication that nearly half the registered voters will come out when an important school funding initiative is on the ballot.
The past year has been challenging in all three of our school districts. That District 153 referendum, approved by an 80 percent margin, was necessary to make ends meet in a state that has been stiffing local education for years.
District 233 was wracked by the controversial dismissal of H-F Principal Ryan Pitcock in June. District 161 is looking for a new school superintendent after parting ways in November with Craig Doster, who’d held the position for six years.
Some genuine heat — and anger — was on display in the past year. I was at the special H-F board meeting in a full house auditorium a few days after Pitcock’s dismissal. I was also there in October when District 161 residents packed a school board meeting and said they had no confidence in Doster’s leadership.
After such a tumultuous year, you’d think there would be a big turnout at the polls on April 4. We shall see.
For starters, though, I suggest that you look at the H-F Chronicle’s voter guide, which will be posted online March 3. It’s the second time we’ve put together a voter guide. Two years ago, the Chronicle had only been covering Homewood and Flossmoor for a couple of months when we reached out to the village, school and park candidates. We got 19 responses. This year we got 49.
And remember our Munchkin brothers and sisters at election time.
It’s one thing to say you care about your community. It’s something else again to back that up in the voting booth.