Look at the neighbor to the right of you, to the left of you, behind you, and across the street. Including your own household, odds are only one of you will vote in Tuesday’s municipal elections. If you’re happy—or not happy—with local governments, what are you going to do about it? Voter turnout in the last “off year” election, in 2009, was only 18 percent. That’s a shame, because this is our opportunity to select the leadership for our City, Park District, School District, and College of DuPage.
The people who are elected will make important decisions that affect our community’s character and quality of life, open space, schools, and parks, for years to come. It’s our responsibility to choose them wisely. Sometimes in the past there have not been many options, but this year all of the races are contested and candidates offer real choices in their visions for the future of our local governments.
The decisions these elected officials make will also determine how much it will cost us to live in Wheaton. Hopefully, most all of us can name our Governor. But we are represented locally by a mayor and six other council members, seven Park District commissioners, seven School Board members, and seven College of DuPage trustees. Do you know all (or any) of their names? You should, for economic self defense if nothing else. Check your property tax bill and your Illinois income tax return. Many of us pay more in local property taxes than we pay in State income taxes, though that may change for some with Governor Quinn’s 67 percent income tax increase this year.
Our property taxes are primarily determined by the taxing and spending decisions made by the folks on Tuesday’s ballot. Anonymity can breed impunity among elected officials. Did you know, for example, that it is the stated policy of our current School Board (built into their five-year financial plan) to “tax to the max” and increase property tax collections by the maximum amount allowed by law, every year, regardless of economic conditions? As a home rule municipality, the City of Wheaton has even more flexibility to collect our money, and has used it to raise sales and utility tax rates over the last couple years.
Still, voting isn’t just about the bottom line, it’s also about good government. The broader the electorate, the more likely the candidates chosen will be representative of the community as a whole. Low turnout and voter apathy simply empower well organized special interest groups looking for their piece of the pie, and ready to spend campaign cash to get it.
Really, there’s no excuse not to vote. This is a non-partisan election, meaning that the candidates don’t have party labels. either do you; you do not have to declare a party affiliation to vote. If you say you don’t know enough about the candidates—check out this web site. Patch has done an excellent job conducting candidate interviews you can read in your own home or anywhere you have an internet connection. Most candidates also have their own web sites, so the information you need to be an informed voter is only a few keystrokes away.
At the web site of the DuPage County Election Commission, www.dupageelections.com, you can look up your voter registration status, find your polling place (they’re open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5), and even view and print out a sample ballot.
Considering the battles in the Middle East over human rights including the right to choose one’s own government, it’s embarrassing that so few of us choose to exercise that right each and every time we can, not just in the “big” elections. Study the issues, the candidates, and the records (not just promises) of the incumbents, then go vote.