More Illinois voters will have choices on the ballot this November

The general election on Nov. 8 is projected to have at least 82 contested statehouse races, the most in 24 years. The goal should be for voters to see a contested ballot for every statehouse contest.

SHARE More Illinois voters will have choices on the ballot this November
Voters cast their ballots Tuesday at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School on the South Side in the 2022 Illinois primary election.

Voters cast their ballots at a South Side polling place in the 2022 Illinois primary election.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

When millions of Illinoisans cast their vote for state representative this fall, they may see something startling on their ballots: more than one candidate.

Why will that be surprising?

Because roughly half of all Illinois House of Representative races since 2012 were uncontested. Some voters go decades without seeing a choice, when two or more candidates should be the standard for all political races.

This November has the potential to disrupt the state’s standard of single-candidate statehouse contests.

Opinion bug

Opinion

The Illinois General Election on Nov. 8 is projected to have at least 82 contested statehouse races, the most in 24 years. Some of the newly contested districts are in “historically uncontested” areas, which means only one candidate ran in three of the past five election cycles — primaries included.

Competition leads to accountability

To Chicagoans, no-choice ballots are as familiar as their neighbors and local parks. The city has the bulk of Illinois’ uncontested districts — 33 out of 57 — with many of the areas showing the greatest need for representatives who act on their complex issues.

Residents in contested districts tend to see higher levels of education, income, employment and home value. Competition for votes yields public leaders who are less beholden to special interest lobbyists and more accountable to constituents.

For example, Chicago residents in uncontested districts are 67% more likely to be unemployed and 53% more likely to live at or below the poverty line compared to residents in contested districts. Historically uncontested Chicago districts have more than twice the share of Black and Hispanic residents compared to historically contested districts, showing how denying choices aggravates problems in vulnerable communities.

One-candidate races deprive these Chicagoans of their ability to hold elected leaders accountable and express their desire for change in their districts. Their voices are suppressed before they ever receive a ballot.

The recent Illinois primary offered a sneak preview of the change that could come. Many new candidates secured the chance to run in November and offer voters an option, thanks to a recruitment initiative and encouragement from Illinois Policy Institute.

Republican candidates Alper Turan and David Sheppard, for example, will run in Illinois House Districts 13 and 36, districts that last saw competitive election ballots 20 and 10 years ago, respectively.

With more candidates in the race, at least 1.2 million more Illinoisans — including Chicagoans in “historically uncontested” districts — will see a choice on their ballots than in 2018.

Those new voices could have a profound impact on election turnout, which is expected to total 4.3 million, the largest vote tally for a non-presidential year in recent history. The projected high turnout correlates with the greater number of choices on the ballot, as studies show.

Together, the anticipated, broad voter participation and number of active candidates willing to challenge the status quo show great potential to stop Illinois from continuing to be the land of no-choice elections.

Promise is not progress. To leave the historically uncontested trend behind, Chicago and Illinois need committed, new leaders courageous enough to campaign and offer voters a choice in every future statehouse election.

Citizen participation is critical not only on Election Day but throughout the election cycle. Passionate, local leaders who rise to the challenge armed with the backing of their neighbors ensure communities have true representation in Springfield.

The goal should be for Illinois voters to see a contested ballot for every statehouse contest. Getting a choice shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Bryce Hill is the director of fiscal and economic research at the Illinois Policy Institute.

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