Illinois residents will go to the polls again April 4.
No, we aren’t electing a president, governor or even senators or representatives. In fact, it’s easy to forget the municipal elections, to be caught off-guard as signs marking polling places start to crop up during early voting. It’s tempting to ignore local elections, when global-scale problems seem so urgent and ever-present in our lives.
But the November election proves two things — every vote counts and elections have consequences.
Voters going to the polls April 4 won’t be sharply divided along party or ideological lines. Labels such as Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative don’t evoke visceral knee-jerk responses in municipal and school board elections.
And, while the fate of the free world will not be riding on the outcome of these elections, they are important nonetheless. The results of municipal and school board elections will have a direct, not to mention profound, effect on residents of the community or school district.
The Southern Illinoisan will continue to publish stories about the upcoming elections, looking at the candidates seeking the votes of their neighbors and the issues voters and candidates care about. It is gratifying to see fields of candidates, providing voters a choice. Again, the 2016 general election seems to have spurred an interest in the American political system.
We have been seeing that renewed interest in mass demonstrations in major cities, in modest protests at town hall forums and even in an uptick in Letters to the Editor.
American citizens are speaking out for their beliefs, becoming engaged and not taking for granted that some candidate will reflect their point of view, and by extension, act in their best interest.
Not everyone has a taste for public office. Not everyone has the time or ability to fulfill the demands of an alderman or school board member. But, every American has the duty to vote. That duty is accompanied by a mandate to vote responsibly.
Take the time to study the candidates and their positions. Do not vote for someone simply because they live in the neighborhood or go to the same church. All over Southern Illinois, candidates for mayor, city council and school board are gathering for public forums, giving all of us a chance to hear directly from the people who seek to represent us. Many forum organizers are taking suggestions from the public for questions.
Aldermen and school board members won’t be deciding foreign policy. They aren’t changing how our health care system works. But they will be making decisions that affect you — that affect all of us. And these may be things some of us care about more deeply than global policy or nationwide legislation. Our local representatives — school board members, college trustees, city council representatives and township supervisors — make decisions about what our children learn in school (or don’t learn), how much we pay in taxes, where our hard-earned tax money goes, and what rules small businesses must adhere to.
We know our readers care very much about each of these issues. Zoning may sound extraordinarily dry, but when Carbondale’s City Council changed the zoning of some downtown businesses this past week, people cared. We talk (sometimes complain) about our local taxes more than anything. A vote in April’s election is a chance to have those complaints heard.
In these dire financial times for Illinois schools, it is particularly important to elect knowledgeable, engaged school board members. With no school funding relief on the horizon, school board members must be capable, and willing, to think outside the box.
The state budget impasse has strained funding at every level of Illinois government. Our local leaders will continue to face fiscal challenges. We must elect the leaders who will make those tough decisions.
And we must do so on April 4.