What lessons can we take away from the 2023 local elections? Actually, there are a few that spring readily to mind.
First off, your vote really does matter. When the dust settled on election night, two candidates vying for the fourth and final seat on the Brookfield Public Library Board of Trustees were separated by just one vote.
As mail-in vote counting dribbled in over the next week, that margin increased to four votes and then, on April 10, to 17 votes. There are likely still a few more mail-in votes to count, so that race is still too close to call. When it’s all said and done, it’s likely the margin of victory in that race will be around two dozen votes.
The second takeaway is that when you don’t have contested races for municipal offices, no one bothers to turn out to vote – and that has a knock-on effect on races connected to those municipalities, particularly school board races, that are contested.
Voter turnout in Riverside for the past two local elections has been mired in the 10% range, while Brookfield’s has had a tough time breaking 15%.
In school board and library board elections, where elsewhere in the nation very different visions for public education are locked in an existential struggle, low turnouts can lead to some very alarming results.
In Lyons Township High School District 204, there was for the first time active, unsolicited partisan activity in a non-partisan school board election. The more organized activity came from the Democratic Party of Illinois and a local group with ties to a well-known Democratic strategist.
That message appears to have motivated those voters, who re-elected two incumbents who because of a poorly timed and clumsily rolled out land sale proposal were really on the ropes earlier this year.
After the school board shelved the land sale, somewhat defusing a volatile campaign issue, focus turned to education policy and the partisan messaging that fueled it. Despite a lot of heat online and in social media, voter turnout in the D204 race was about 27%.
So, 73% of registered voters simply rolled the dice and hoped for the best for the high school district to which a huge chunk of their property tax bills goes.
In the contested race for the North Riverside village board, where since 2015 turnout has never been lower than 36%, voter turnout in 2023 was 26%.
That’s in line with other contested races, like LTHS’, but turnout likely wasn’t helped by one entirely negative campaign led by an incumbent who called her opponents liars and failed to show up for a candidate forum, implying her neighbors couldn’t behave themselves.
If Donald Trump taught the nation anything, it’s that you might be able to get away with that act once, but it grows tiresome and shallow very quickly.