The Importance Of Elections

Next week, the League of Women Voters of Wilmette will host its “Municipal Candidate Election Forum” on Saturday, March 16 from 9:00am to 1:30pm.  The League invites all candidates running for office in contested races to participate and, following the forum, the League will host a “meet and greet” for all candidates running in uncontested races. 

The League doesn’t identify with any political party and describes itself on its website as “a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government.” And the local candidates who will be at the forum and “meet and greet” are all running for non-partisan offices. As chance would have it, the upcoming forum will be on a Saturday when I’ll be out of town. So if I’m not going to attend this event, and if it isn’t connected with the Democratic Party in any way, why am I spending time talking about it in this newsletter?

Glad you asked.

Throughout the more than 50 years of the New Trier Democratic Organization’s existence, the NTDO has maintained a “hands off” policy toward involvement in the many local non-partisan elections held in New Trier communities. We’ve refrained from officially endorsing local candidates and have never organized our members for precinct work in those local contests. Our organization has always felt that adding the heat of partisanship to local elections would likely be more polarizing than productive. And in our present hyper-divided times this position appears wiser than ever.

However…accepting the wisdom that local contests should stay non-partisan doesn’t mean that those of us who identify ourselves as Democrats or progressive Independents shouldn’t pay close attention to these local elections.

Every day, we’re exposed to media reports on issues at the state and federal level. But unless you’re personally focused on a specific aspect of our community life, — our zoning…our infrastructure…our parks…our schools — chances are the work being done by our locally elected boards isn’t on your radar. 

And that’s how we all like it. Yes, there are weekly community newspapers where we can check on how things are going. But most of the time, there are no issues generating serious controversy. In fact when things are running smoothly, our local boards becomes nearly invisible to a lot of us. That’s one big reason why local elections virtually never draw the same number of voters as state and federal contests.

Nevertheless, it’s seriously important that we pay attention to who we elect to these boards.
Of course it would be foolish to seek-out local candidates who have identical philosophical profiles, people who will vote in lockstep on every issue. A diversity of sensibilities and experience in the makeup of our local boards is a healthy situation for shaping the smartest policies. But there are certain priorities and personal values that we should be looking for in every candidate we encounter. — There are good reasons for this.

The potential always exists for a local board to be asked to vote on a policy that could affect the very fabric of the community. That may sound like hyperbole, but such situations do arise when a community’s most basic values — personal freedoms, human rights, elemental fairness — are put to the test. It might involve policy set by a village board, a school board, a library board; freedom and justice are key elements in virtually every aspect of an organized community. 

I imagine that’s why the League organizes its forums before every local election. Perhaps they recognize that there is always a danger that local government can be used as a starting point for the erosion of our nation’s most cherished principles. (It’s a tactic the far-right likes to use.) The best defense against that is knowledge about every candidate. Although the NTDO will not be participating in any local campaigns, we completely agree.

So mark your calendar for March 16. Set aside that morning and early afternoon to meet some of the women and men vying to take on the local responsibilities that make our North Shore communities great places to live.

Nels Howard, NTD Member since 1973