Real talk for the Prairie State: it’s hard to look down a Republican or Democrat primary ballot in Illinois and not find at least one race where the best option is “Oh God, anyone but them,” and we all know it.
In a state where the only official record of a voter’s partisan allegiance is their choice of primary ballot, that leaves a lot of voters nominally affiliated with parties within which they’d honestly rather not vote for most of the candidates, and are only pulling the ballot to influence one or two races that they actually care about.
There is a way out of the lousy-candidate trap, but it requires voters to take a brave stance: cast a vote that boycotts the primaries of both establishment parties in an active and recorded way, either by pulling an alternate party’s ballot where it’s available, or by pulling the nonpartisan, referenda-only ballot as a vote of “no confidence” in both the Democrat and Republican slates.
Voters in the 12th Congressional District (southern Illinois) and in nearly all of Cook County (the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago) will have the option of pulling a Green Party ballot this year, thanks to the party’s work in gaining “established” status despite the significant barriers written into Illinois law. In those places, the party has candidates on the ballot, and in the case of the Water Reclamation District race needs at least 1,720 Cook County voters to pull the Green Party ballot and participate in the write-in-only primary set by the Cook County Clerk’s office to fill a vacancy.
In the rest of the state, voters can still ask for a nonpartisan ballot, which will feature only the statewide and local referenda questions, with no candidates of any party listed. Either option sends a clear message to both Democrats and Republicans: “No thank you; your candidates this year weren’t good enough for me.”
It may sound radical at first brush, but with very occasional exceptions, boycotting the primary is already the majority choice—typically in Illinois, more voters stay home than show up for a primary. Pulling an emphatically non-two-party primary ballot is actually a step towards active democratic participation for the majority of Illinois voters, even where there are zero candidates or contested elections on that ballot.
And can Illinois voters really be blamed for primary election apathy, given the choices that show up below the top-ticket races in most districts?
Take a Democrat ballot in any Chicago precinct, for example, and you’ll have maybe one or two genuinely well-intentioned, independent-minded candidates (and even they will likely be awash in corporate cash), and sharing the ballot with them will be pages of Democrat-machine tools, many of them running in unopposed elections that render your vote completely meaningless.
Downstate, you may get the occasional conflict between a white-collar, business-type Republican and a more fiery, populist, social-issues conservative, but once again, the majority of the races—county positions, judges, committeeman, etc.—will be either unopposed or foregone-conclusion coronations of the usual suspects.
That puts voters who show up on Election Day and ask for a Democrat or Republican ballot in the awkward place of effectively endorsing, whether they want to or not, a slate of partisan candidates for the general election that may only contain one or two candidates they actually like. (Voters can refrain from voting on specific ballot lines, of course, but those individual votes are secret—all the electoral system records is which party’s primary the voter selected.)
We’re told it’s important to vote, and it is. But when a party’s primary offers more ballot lines full of people you don’t support than people you do, the “good citizen” option isn’t to show up and vote in that primary anyway, just for the sake of helping out the handful of candidates you do support.
The real vote of integrity is to condemn the two-party system that gave you those lousy choices, and in Illinois this year, that means casting a Green Party ballot where it’s available, or choosing the nonpartisan, referenda-only ballot where it isn’t.