Let's be honest; voting can be exhausting.
Each ballot requires dozens of decisions about candidates and issues critical to our federal, state and local units of government. Even the most diligent, well-informed and opinionated voters have a hard time developing perspectives on every single candidate and issue. They might have specific opinions about candidates for federal and statewide offices, however their views get fuzzier as they move down the ballot and consider candidates for lower-profile offices.
But Illinois voters shouldn't feel guilty about their Election Day bouts of fatigue. Election ballots can be lengthy and confusing. Voting procedures and technologies can be complicated. And, decision making can be undermined by limited campaigning and limited media attention in low-profile races.
Many of these problems could be resolved and voter confidence could be elevated through a vigorous voters’ guide program. ICPR supports the creation non-partisan, state-sponsored voters' guides, which would provide voters with vital information on candidates, registration, and voting equipment. Such guides could be developed by the State Board of Elections and mailed to voters. Nearly a dozen states and countless cities and counties around the country already offer voters this resource.
In 2001 ICPR staffed the "Illinois Voters Guide Task Force," a group co-chaired by Secretary of State Jesse White and State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka. The Task Force, with members drawn from business, labor, government, and academia, studied the issue closely and concluded that Illinois should pilot a voters’ guide in general elections. Unfortunately, the Illinois General Assembly has never implemented the task force's recommendations.
In 2005, Illinois enacted a law directing the State Board of Elections to post a limited, on-line voters' guide. Such guides cover statewide candidates and candidates for the state supreme and appellate courts. These on-line guides, however, do not feature information about "downticket races" such as state legislative, circuit court and county races.
While these on-line guides represent an important step forward, ICPR favors the creation of extensive paper voters' guides mailed to each state voter. Such guides should be comprehensive, listing all candidates, issues and referenda. Candidate portions of the guide should include biographical information and personal statements. The guides should also describe the specific duties relating to public offices, terms and salaries. In addition, guides should include information about voters' legal rights, ballot procedures, voting equipment and registration procedures. The information should be presented in a user-friendly manner.
Voters' guides would improve the election process and the voting experience in several ways. Specimen ballots within the guide would reduce confusion over the shape and structure of the ballot. Voters would know their rights and understand the voting equipment, procedures, and registration requirements heading for the polls. And, voters would have a chance to fully evaluate objective information about the candidates, referenda and constitutional issues on the ballot before entering the voting booth.