Voter suppression is rampant in
Illinois, and it targets the poor and minorities – especially in Chicago.
But research shows it isn’t some right-wing effort to stop automatic voter
registration, vote-by-mail or ask for photo IDs at the polls. It comes from a
system carefully crafted over decades to stop competition by making voter
Lack of choice is Illinois’ most powerful voter suppression machine.
Illinois politicians built the machine to discourage competition and protect
incumbents. Gerrymandered legislative maps that create uncompetitive districts
and election rules that test clerical skills are all part of how Illinois
politicians keep Jane Q. Public from running for office.
The cost is big: 1.7 million missing votes since 2012.
Plus, corruption breeds where there is no competition for public office.
Corruption costs Illinois an estimated $556 million a year.
And maybe most insidious, lack of choice hurts the interests of the communities
that most need public services. Low-income urban areas where most of the
population are minorities are least likely to see ballot choices, which leaves
their safe-seat representatives more interested in the money and priorities of
special interests than in the needs and desires of their constituents.
So, Illinois Policy, the institute’s advocacy partner, decided to do something
about the suppression created when voters have no choices to make, thus no
reason to go to the polls. It encouraged competition in Statehouse races,
recruiting candidates and guiding them through the process of filing to run. The
results are shaping up as potentially the most competitive Illinois election
cycle in at least 24 years.
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Instead of the average 64 races out of 118, this
year is likely to see 82 contested Statehouse races. Some of the
candidates are running in districts where – for over two decades –
voters have gone without a general election choice.
The stories of these candidates are diverse and
heroic. They are well-intentioned, regular folks who care about
their communities and the direction in which Illinois is headed.
They are immigrants who saw suppression of much more than their
votes, a police chief worried about education, an emergency room
nurse who saw state child protection efforts fail and a veteran
dedicated to continuing his service.
One understands crime better than most: Edward
Kornegay directs a prison ministry, and his son survived being shot
in the face during a carjacking at the grocery store. He prepares
incarcerated people for life after confinement by helping them
understand freedom of choice and how much choice matters.
“They think freedom means having the right to go to work or rob a
store,” Kornegay said. “So, I believe that even my running for
office is about freedom. I am free to do nothing, or try to invoke
change with my own hands. It’s a free choice, and only by being free
can you affect change in your life and the lives of your family.”
“That’s it. This is what it means to be free.”
The candidates, like Illinois Policy, decided Illinois’ problems can
be fixed if they get involved. They are providing the choices that
Brad Weisenstein is the managing editor for the
Illinois Policy Institute, a non-partisan research and education
organization dedicated to free-market principles.