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Wayne's Words: Why such low voter turnout?

Wayne Horne | 4/6/2017, 6 a.m.
When you read this week’s column, election results are known and probably analyzed as to why the small number of ...

When you read this week’s column, election results are known and probably analyzed as to why the small number of voters who turned out, chose candidates who won. Usually, incumbents are returned to the office they ran for and most referendums are defeated. How do I know this the day before results are known? History tells us so.

Incumbents are reelected about 90 per cent of the time. Referendums are usually defeated unless it’s the second or third time they’ve been offered to voters. Finally, only a small percentage of registered voters will cast a ballot.

The precinct I vote in, for instance, has approximately 1400 eligible voters. During last November’s election, approximately 1000 people voted. Presidential elections typically draw about 75-80 per cent of registered voters.

Local elections, like this one, usually generate about 12-15 percent of the voters eligible. That equates to less than 200 votes at my polling place in Joliet. I was number nine when I voted at 9:30 Tuesday morning. That doesn’t count anyone who voted early, absentee or by mail.

One possible reason for low voter turnout is the fact that elections occur quite often. How often? They occur annually. We just had an election this last November. Here it is five months later and another election.

The next one? March 2018 will be the Primary Election for Republicans and Democrats to choose who will be on the ballot in November of 2018. The following April, 2019, will be for local races again. In Joliet, we’ll be voting for Mayor and five City Council District members. The campaigning for political office never stops.

In Illinois, the voting issue is compounded by the more than 7,000 political subdivisions that require the election of a varying number of candidates for specific offices. Low voter turnout can’t possibly be because people are not aware of elections. It’s more likely they are trying to avoid them.

Some states are trying to deal with the issue of too many elections by consolidating them on one date. The possibility of any such consolidation is remote. For one thing, the candidate running for a mosquito abatement district in a small downstate Illinois county is unlikely to gather much attention compared to a hotly contested presidential race.

Another reason voters stay home, and incumbents win, is just human nature with a lot of apathy thrown in. Why go vote if the incumbent is going to be reelected anyway? It’s a frustrating cycle that’s unlikely to be broken.

While we’re on the subject of eligible voters, did you know in some instances you don’t have to be a citizen to vote? There is no requirement in the U.S. Constitution that a person must be a citizen in order to vote. According to one source, a Federal law passed in 1996 prohibits non-citizens from voting in Federal elections, but does not prohibit voting in state and local elections.

The state of Arkansas, in 1926, was the last state to prohibit voting in state elections. Up until that time most states allowed non-citizen voting at some point in their history. The Illinois Constitution of 1818 allowed white males over the age of 21 to vote in all elections. That changed in 1848. The State of Maryland has several municipalities that still allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. Considering the objections raised by some people today, one would assume voting by non-citizens to be a crime against humanity. In some circles, it’s legal for non-citizens to vote.

That’s a quick history on who votes and who wins. According to Tuesday’s election results, history seems a pretty good predictor of election outcomes.

Stay tuned…