Bob Cox recently posted a chart on Facebook with data showing the total number of people in Proviso, total number of registered voters and the total number of people who voted from Proviso Township for the past three years, according to the Cook County Clerk's Office. He went on to suggest that "a formal analysis is in order" and questioned voter engagement.
Let's start with the basics: Proviso District 209 consists of three public high schools and serves students from 10 communities. The district is basically divided into two parts — the east: Broadview, Forest Park, Maywood, Melrose Park and the west: Bellwood, Berkeley, Hillside, Northlake, Stone Park and Westchester. In total, there are roughly 70,000 registered voters, divided among these towns.
Together, these towns contribute to the Proviso Township High School educational system. There is a seven-person board of education that collectively, and ideally, governs the high school district in the best interests of students, incorporates the community's input, ensures tax dollars are being spent in the most prudent way, and are accountable to the public. Terms are four years long and the election cycle pattern splits the seats so that, every other year, three or four seats are up for election.
Pointing out that the total number of voters in Proviso has steadily decreased in the past three elections, Cox asked, "Does every[one] feel comfortable with this anemic voting scenario? You have to ask if this is helping or hurting District 209. Is it helping the students?"
What Cox identified as "anemic," may have more to do with the election cycles within Proviso. Registered voters seem more likely to vote when there is a contested mayoral (or village presidential) election in their town. For example, about 35% of registered Forest Park voters cast ballots in the April elections of 2011 and 2015, both were contested mayoral election years, whereas only 16% voted in the non-mayoral election of 2013. Melrose Park and Stone Park had over 50% of registered voter turnout in the contested village president election of 2013, but just over 20% in the uncontested years of 2011 and 2015.
This year there are mayoral (or presidential) races in several Proviso towns. Some are contested, some are not, and will likely influence the total ballots cast. Here is the lineup: Bellwood (mayor, unopposed), Berkeley (president, unopposed), Broadview (president, five candidates), Hillside (president, unopposed), Maywood (president, four candidates), Melrose Park (president, unopposed), Northlake (mayor, unopposed), Stone Park (president, two candidates), and Westchester (president, unopposed). This year there are four Proviso High School board seats up for election with only three incumbents running.
Voters are more likely to vote if they feel personally connected to the outcome of the election. Whether or not Bellwood, Berkeley, Hillside, Forest Park, Melrose Park, and Westchester voters choose to vote this year — in their virtually uncontested local government elections of village, park district, township and elementary school districts — remains to be seen.
The Proviso Township High School board election has been contested in every election for the past six years, and is again this year. We will find out on April 4 how apathetic or invested people are in the local Proviso high schools.
If Forest Parkers feel more invested than other foundation communities, they may have a bigger impact on the outcome of the election (as the accompanying charts show from past elections).
Something to think about.
— Jill Wagner is married to D209 board member Ned Wagner.