Uncontested races, entrenched incumbents reduce competition in local elections
Southland townships suffered from a lack of competition in recent local elections, whether through uncontested races or deeply rooted incumbents, according to Chicago Tribune Daily Southtown columnist Ted Slowik.
“I'm disappointed there's not more competition for township offices,” Slowik wrote. “I think many entrenched politicians with clout and party organizations draw enough support in low-turnout elections to discourage some potential challengers from running.”
In the recent elections, races for assessor are perhaps the best illustration of the trend of competitions that are either uncontested or, in some cases, vacant after election day due to a lack of candidates.
According to Slowik, while townships typically have at least one candidate for assessor, it’s not unprecedented that a local election would have no candidates due to the stringent qualifications required for the position. The past election saw no one run for assessor in Will County in Custer, Green Garden and Jackson townships, as well as no one run for collector in Peotone, Reed and Green Garden townships.
While residents of various backgrounds can run for township supervisor, trustee, clerk or highway commissioner, those running for assessor must have backgrounds and certifications to show that they are knowledgeable in property assessments.
Assessor candidates are typically people who have worked in real estate, property appraisal, insurance claims adjustment or another related industry, already shrinking the pool of potential candidates. Further whittling that group down, in Illinois those serving as assessors in public office must be Certified Illinois Assessing Officers (CIAOs), a distinction that requires coursework and knowledge demonstration.
“This is not a one-time requirement, either,” Slowik wrote. “CIAOs must update their certification every two years and show proof of 30 hours of annual continuing education credits and at least 150 hours of additional training, according to the Department of Revenue's website.”
Because of these stringent requirements, it is perhaps not surprising that there are not an abundance of assessor candidates, but that means that township residents are still facing a lack of competition on the provision of vital services.
“Property owners rely on township assessors to obtain copies of deeds and help with senior citizen exemptions, tax appeals and other critical services,” Slowik wrote. “I wondered what happens when no one runs for the office and the position is vacant.”
According to state statutes, when a Township does not have an elected assessor, the Township Supervisor and Trustees can appoint a qualified individual to the post or contract an individual or organization to provide those services, meaning there is no voter decision on the position.
Township-level elections also reveal a proclivity toward incumbents, especially those enmeshed in state and local politics through holding multiple local, county, state or party level positions.
“In Will County, township office-holders are also sometimes intertwined with party leadership positions and other public posts,” Slowik wrote. “Will County Board Speaker Jim Moustis — leader of the board's Republican majority — was re-elected Frankfort Township supervisor this week after running unopposed. The Frankfort Township assessor is Joe Kral, who is the Republican Party's township chair.”
Slowik also made the case that even when local level politicians hold just one office, they are much more likely to win an election than challengers. In Lemont and Monee townships, amongst several others in Will County, no or few elected officials lost their seats in the recent elections.
Taking Homer Township as an example, Slowik notes that the a challenger coalition Homer Township Independent Party, which ran on the promise of phasing the township government out, was unable to unseat any Republican incumbents – the group’s only victory was collector candidate Kim M. Combs, who ran uncontested.
In Lockport the margins between Democratic incumbents and Republican challengers were closer, but with the exception of one of four trustee seats the Democrats mostly retained their offices.
Slowik’s column shows these trends of low competition carrying through swathes of Will and Cook counties.
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13801 S. Teakwood Drive
Homer Glen, IL 60491