November 6, 2012

Bottom of the ballot, top priorities

A guide for Chicago voters to less prominent—but equally important—races and referenda.

Today, voters across the nation go to the polls to decide everything from the next president to the next dogcatcher. Although we will not be endorsing any candidates for national office, we would like to give those of you registered to vote in Illinois some information on the many important down-ballot issues that deserve your attention.

First, a few logistical reminders. If you are registered to vote here in Chicago, you can find your polling place and other voting-related details by going to chicagoelections.com and clicking on the “For voters” tab. Polls will be open until 7 p.m. this evening. In most cases, you do not need ID to vote; however, you may need to provide it if there is a discrepancy with your registration or you are a new voter who has not yet provided ID to the Election Board. If you are concerned, bring one government-issued photo ID and another form of identification, such as a utility bill, to the polls. Make sure at least one of these has the address at which you are registered printed on it.

Now, on to the ballot. Below the Presidential and Congressional races, there are a dizzying number of decisions to make for the State Senate and Assembly, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD), and various Cook County offices. These posts, even if you’ve never heard of them, can be quite important; the MWRD, for example, has a significant say in the cleanliness of our water. The same can be said for the competitive race for the First District seat on the Illinois Supreme Court. Though we lack the space to go over each race here, we urge you to gain a preliminary understanding of these issues before heading to the polls.

After a long list of uncontested judicial vacancies comes a section where you can vote on whether to retain sitting judges on the Cook County Circuit Court. Incumbents need to get 60 percent of the vote to hold their seats, and it is almost unheard of for them to fail to do so. This is not because everyone on the bench necessarily deserves to be there, however: Multiple local bar associations recommend against retaining Judges Brim (who assaulted a sheriff’s deputy), Brooks, Murphy, Eadie-Daniels, Hill-Veal and Chevere (who was caught tanning in her backyard after closing court early).

Turning to referendums, we urge you to vote NO on amending the state constitution to require a three-fifths majority to pass pension benefit increases. The Better Government Organization believes it will do nothing to fix the state’s pension problems and the Hyde Park–Kenwood Organization says the measure is “widely opposed across the spectrum as a smokescreen.”

We are in favor of a YES vote on city-negotiated electrical rates. The measure contains an opt-out clause that would ensure individual consumers the right to continue to pay Com Ed’s rates if they so choose, though it stands to reason that collective negotiations by the city could help lower utilities costs for consumers

Although it is unclear where the state would get the money, as a matter of principle we support voting YES on the non-binding referendum asking Illinois to pay into Chicago teachers’ pensions, since it does so for instructors in every other school district.

We also support voting YES on the non-binding referendum calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United. More accountability and less money in politics is something those of almost every political stripe should agree on.

Finally, depending on your ward, you may be asked to vote symbolically on whether Chicago Board of Education members should be elected rather than appointed. We support voting YES, as elections would bring Chicago in line with every other district in the state and increase accountability of board members.

Though these issues are less prominent and publicized than the presidential ticket and congressional races, they also play an important role in our day-to-day lives. We encourage all Chicago voters to make educated decisions on the down-ballot choices covered here, and to remember that a voter’s responsibility does not end with checking those first few boxes.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.