DeKalb County Struggles To Engage Local Voters

Apr 2, 2019

DeKalb County had only 24% of its registered voters cast ballots in the 2017 consolidated election. The 2018 general election had 60% voter turnout, a difference of 36% between the two elections.

Oscar Bahena is a resident of Waukegan and a student at Northern Illinois University. Bahena was not aware of this year's consolidated election, and he feels that most of the general public isn't informed enough in local politics.

"No I don't believe we're really well informed at all," he said. "That can be due to if you do and do not watch the news. There are also not a lot of billboards and signs on people's lawns. I don't think we're well informed at all."

DeKalb resident Nathan Jesser thinks citizens have to work harder to find information on candidates for local elections. "The local things, I really have to fight to try and find the differences of the candidates for the school board and other positions," he said. "It's a little harder for me to find out what the impact of what candidates are saying is."

Jesser also believes it's difficult to decipher political positions in local elections. "People want to put a spin on everything. I get that, it’s the nature of the game," he said. "It's my job to figure out fact from fiction, to separate spin from reality. I find it easier to do that with statewide and federal elections than during local elections."

Mark Robinson is the owner and operator of the House Café in downtown DeKalb. He feels that a lack of funding and major media attention plays a role in the public's lack of interest in local elections. "I think money, and when you're talking about national elections there is a focus on corporate media," he said. "It's hard to get major media outlets to focus on a state election."

DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith was unsure about social media's influence on local elections. "I'm not so sure that social media, in many of its forms, has created a divisiveness, where sometimes people throw up their arms and say, 'Why should I vote? Why should I take part in a democratic process?' It is ironic that with the advent of social media that one would think we would have more participation at the ballot box, apparently that is not proven to be the case," he said.

Smith also did not see a "burnout" effect from continuing election cycles locally because most representatives serve longer terms.

"Here locally a lot of our terms are four years. That gives a candidate, and a successful candidate, more time to adjust themselves to the office, to the workload etc. I don't think there's a burnout scenario in that case."

All polling places open in Illinois today (Tuesday) at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.