Evanston news delivered free to your inbox!
A nonpartisan group formed by Skokie residents is pushing to reform Skokie’s electoral system, which has not changed since 1961, in a way that makes it more like that of its neighbor Evanston.
The group, the Skokie Alliance for Electoral Reform, hosted a press conference on April 13 to present its mission.
In the last 20 years, Skokie voter turnout for village elections averaged 9%, said Carrie Bradean, a member of the group’s steering committee, at the press conference.
Voter turnout is this low because there’s usually only one candidate running for each position, so voters don’t see the point in voting, Bradean said.
Skokie’s mayor and trustees are selected via a partisan, non-staggered election that occurs every four years, and there is no district-based representation. This system leads to uncontested elections, Bradean said.
“It is not a coincidence that we have had a single-party government in Skokie for 60 years,” said James Johnson, another member of the group’s steering committee.
The group hopes to add three referendum questions to the Nov. 8 ballot, aiming to make elections non-partisan, stagger terms for board members, and require hybrid representation, which they said would ensure better geographic representation among board members.
These changes would make Skokie’s electoral system more like Evanston’s, in which the mayor and City Council members are elected in non-partisan elections and represent wards across the city.
At the media conference, Skokie resident Jasmine Sebaggala spoke in favor of the group’s initiatives.
The current electoral system was created during a time when Black people did not live in Skokie, Sebaggala said, and since its creation, a Black woman has never been selected as a trustee.
“The current electoral process was not designed to include Black leaders,” she said.
Breaking down the initiatives
Johnson explained that in a partisan system, political party candidates are at an advantage. Their paperwork is filed first, their names are listed first on the ballot, and they get political party labels on the ballot.
“We know that with a more level playing field for candidates, we’ll get more candidates,” said Johnson.
The group is also pushing for staggered elections, which would strike a better balance between change and stability, said Johnson. It would also provide twice as many opportunities for candidates to run for office, he added.
To ensure board members are not all from the same district, the Skokie Alliance for Electoral Reform proposes a hybrid representation system, in which four of the six trustees are elected from districts, and two are elected at large.
“We think that there are some downsides to electing all representatives at large, or all representatives by district, so we think a hybrid system is a nice middle path,” said Johnson.
For the next six months, the group will be out campaigning to encourage residents to vote yes to the three initiatives.
“We deserve an electoral system that will allow us to choose the candidates that will consider our interests and needs instead of having candidates chosen for us,” said Sebaggala.
She said it’s time to create an inclusive electoral process that will replace the current outdated one, which produces low voter turnout.
Another Skokie resident, Emi Yamauchi, said she went to her first board meeting in February and was astounded by how little the board seemed to listen to its own constituents.
A group of people who have been in power for a long time feel that they know best, Yamauchi said.
“They didn’t really need to do due diligence because they were going to be in power forever,” she said. “That was really what kind of lit a fire under me.”
The group hopes to receive 2,000 signatures by Aug. 8 and then submit them to the Skokie Village Clerk to be placed on the November ballot.
Johnson said that although the Skokie Alliance has not yet begun collecting signatures, they have already received many endorsements from individuals, such as former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, and local organizations, including the North/Northwest Suburban Chicago Chapter of National Organization for Women and the Community Alliance for Better Government, Evanston.
If enough Skokie residents hear about the initiatives to reform the electoral system, group members said they feel confident that voters will back the proposed initiatives.
Bradean said she has heard very little opposition from the residents she has spoken with.
“I think these are some really common-sense reforms that can unite us in our shared democratic ideals, regardless of our other affiliations or beliefs or, or wishes,” she said. “This is about basic democracy.”
Residents can learn more about the group’s mission at a public kickoff event at 6:30 p.m. on April 19 at the Devonshire Cultural Center.