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Illinois' consolidated elections are costly, but haven't increased voter turnout

Illinois' consolidated elections are costly, but haven't increased voter turnout

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Dorothy de Souza Guedes/CLINTON BUREAU/March 26, 2001

MORRISON, Ill. — The April 3 consolidated election will be the most complicated and costly ever in Whiteside County, as voters choose candidates in more races due to state-mandated changes in voting schedules.

Whiteside County Clerk Dan Heusinkveld and his staff are busy organizing an election with 87 different ballot styles, up from a previous high number of 61.

Municipal and school elections were consolidated in 1999, and this year township elections were added to the ballot.

Because boundaries of the county's governmental bodies, such as townships, school districts and library districts, aren't aligned, voters must receive a ballot specific to their geographic area, necessitating the high number of ballot styles.

"It just makes for all these different combinations and it is higher than it has been in the past," he said. This also means more booths at every precinct, as every ballot style requires an additional booth.

Before 1982, each unit of Illinois government held its own election, where and when it chose. With consolidated elections, mandated by the state in 1982, elections are set in the same places on the same dates, rotating local races with general elections for county, state and federal government offices.

In even-numbered years, primary and general elections for county, state and federal offices are held. A February primary and an April consolidated election are set for odd-numbered years. The February primary is not needed if cities and counties choose to have candidates run as independents rather than with a party affiliation, which always has been the case in Whiteside County.

Previously, school board elections were held in November and the consolidated spring election had been for local government offices such as cities and townships. "Now we dump school board with it," Heusinkveld said.

The goals of holding a consolidated election were to increase voter turnout and save money by doing it all at once.

"Neither has happened," Heusinkveld said.

The cost of the April 1999 consolidated election was $63,370, but Heusinkveld's rough estimate for the April 2001 election surpasses $80,000.

"The cost has just skyrocketed and it's because of state-imposed laws," he said.

Increased costs are due to the higher number of ballot styles, the switch from paper to machine ballots and the need for more election judges.

The state has made it easier to register to vote, with applications available at the post office, driver's license facilities, government offices and financial institutions.

"There's no excuse for not registering and still we don't do it," he said.

There are more registered voters than ever in Whiteside County — 38,164 — but voter turnout is lower.

The highest voter turnout recorded in Whiteside County was in the November 1992 general election, with 86.23 percent of registered voters voting. The lowest ever was the March 1998 primary, at 10 percent. "But there was no competition in either party," Heusinkveld said.

Traditionally, though, April elections have seen low voter turnout. For the first time this year, township elections are on the ballot in the spring, along with all other units of local government. School board elections were switched from fall to spring two years ago.

The April 1999 consolidated election turnout was 24.5 percent, but Heusinkveld expects turnout to be higher this year, about 30 percent, due to the addition of school board elections.

"Traditionally, these off-year elections don't generate much interest. What's it going to be this time? Boy, I wish I could tell you," he said.

Absentee voting

Request for applications for absentee voting must be arrive at the county clerk's office by Thursday to allow enough time to mail the ballot out, vote and return the ballot by election day.

Another option is to fill out the application and vote in person at the county clerk's office, 200 E. Knox St., Morrison, during regular office hours through April 2.

Illinois law mandates that voters must have a special reason for not voting in person on election day, such as not being in town on election day, being physically incapacitated or serving on a jury. All polling places are handicapped accessible and have handicapped parking designated.

The Whiteside County clerk's office phone number is (815) 772-5189; office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Extra hours are 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 2.


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