Wednesday, February 3, 2010

ELECTION DAZE: Where’s ideological “war”? It looks like apathy

I find it laughable the way that nationally-oriented political pundits are trying to read more into Illinois’ primary elections results than they’re worth.

People are looking for evidence that Barack Obama is being repudiated – particularly in his home state.

BUT WHEN I look at the results of our local elections, there are two statistics that pop up. They are 24.8 and 22.9. Those are the percentages that tell how many local people actually bothered to show up at the polling places (either on Tuesday or through early voting) to cast ballots.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners says that 24.8 percent of the 1,444,277 registered voters in the city cast ballots. By comparison, the Cook County clerk’s office says that 22.9 percent of suburban registered voters bothered to vote.

In all, just over 670,000 people who live in Cook County, Ill., cast ballots. When one considers that the number of registered voters tallies just under 2.9 million, all I have to say is that is pathetic. What is the real story from Tuesday - the confusion about who will get to do the "people's business" at the Capitol Complex in Springfield for the next few years, or the fact that just over three of every four Chicago-area registered voters didn't care enough to vote?

For all those people who want to see ideological warfare in our election results, all I see are a batch of people who seem to regard this election cycle the same way that Rhett Butler regarded Scarlett O’Hara.

SOME PEOPLE ARE going to argue that this apathy is ideological. The “people” are telling us they don’t want anybody from among the choices they have been offered in this election cycle.

But I think this is more a case of the short primary election cycle (which will create an equal and opposite reaction of a longer-than-usual general election cycle) killing off any attempt to seriously get to know what the candidates are about. So many people decided to do nothing.

They found better ways to spend their Tuesday, which in the parts of the Chicago area I ventured into was a cloudy, overcast day with light snowfall trickling down.

I had trouble finding people who were seriously interested in discussing issues or candidates in this election cycle. I wasn’t alone. Many of the people I spoke to throughout the day who were at polling places also noted the mere trickle of people who showed up to vote.

SO I JUST can’t take seriously the idea that this election cycle offers any “message” the way that certain pundits are determined to say that the special Massachusetts election of recent weeks sent a message. For one thing, this is a primary election – with the general election to be held nine months from now.

That election may send a message. Or it may just send a batch of elected officials from Chicago and Illinois to Springfield and Washington, along with those headed for the City Hall/County Building.

If anything, I am more intrigued by how close this election cycle turned out for the Illinois governor primaries. It means that nobody seems to have a grasp on what the “people” want. I only hope we don’t get into some drawn-out fight that involves recounts that drags out and causes people to act stupidly for ideological reasons. I can't envision anyone winning by more than 5 percent, which means a recount could be a legal option.

The lesson I remember from the 2000 elections is that the public will soon start griping about “when will it all end,” and will be willing to allow anything to happen – regardless of whether it represents the will of the people (which in today’s era is really a case of not being able to agree on much of anything).

THERE ALSO IS the general election campaign for U.S. Senate – Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias versus Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. Will Giannoulias’ friendship with Obama result in enough support that he wins the Senate seat that Obama himself once held?

Or will Illinois voters really want to send “messages” in November and vote against anything connected to Barack?

Not that Kirk doesn’t have his own issues to deal with. As much as his moderate views on social issues may make him appeal to voters across the state, it also makes him anathema to those conservatives who wanted an ideologue candidate but weren’t able to coalesce their support behind any one of the six challengers Kirk faced in the GOP primary.

Will Kirk get the “John McCain” treatment – many conservatives won’t turn out and vote for him and will focus their attention on thwarting a “Sen. Giannoulias?” Or will the thought of “seizing” the one-time Obama seat (which also was once held by Carol Moseley-Braun) cause them to hold their noses and cast votes for Kirk?

THOSE ARE THE questions I have. They are legitimate issues I will be spending months studying. But based on the voter turnout figures I saw, I wonder if I’m one of the few who truly cares.

I also should point out one other statistic that gives me a kick. I couldn’t help but notice that the Green Party, whose supporters like to think they’re creating a legitimate political movement in Illinois, only had 1,385 people take their ballots in the city of Chicago.

By comparison, 30,604 people who live and are registered to vote in the city asked for Republican Party ballots. Any entity that is less significant than a Chicago Republican is one that is best ignored come Election Day.


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