Tuesday’s election was marked by low voter turnout and slow workdays for the election judges, as approximately 20 percent of the nearly 8,000 registered voters showed up at the polls to cast their votes, according to election judges.
“We checked at Grant?”White [at 6:10 p.m.],” said Forest Park Commissioner Patrick Doolin. “Of the 2,300 registered voters only 158 had cast ballots.”
A check at selected polling places at 4 p.m. showed 39 residents had cast votes at Garfield Elementary, 91 at the Park, 91 at the Middle School.
By 4:30 p.m. some judges were modifying their voter turnout expectations, from 12 percent to 10 percent.
In contrast, in the 2003 election, 7,319 votes were cast in the commissioner elections throughout the village’s 12 precincts and 1,506 votes were cast to re-elect Mayor Anthony Calderone, who was running unopposed.
Also in 2003, 1,911 votes were cast for the park board commissioner election alone.
Doolin said he was not surprised there was low turnout, he was surprised at how low.
“I think you got to look at the election, what brings local voters out is the municipal election,” he said. “When elections like this are coupled with federal elections you tend to see more voters. This is township and school board which is uncontested, and the park board which is the most lively of the races, but people don’t take the time to come out to those types of races.”
When questioned, several voters said they simply didn’t know much about the candidates, others said this race just wasn’t that important.
“I think [the low turnout] is because it is a middle election,” said Frank Presto, a 40-year resident of Forest Park. “There weren’t a lot of issues, the main issues for the town weren’t there.”
Michael Espinosa, an incumbent park commissioner in the race said he was very disappointed.
“If it was a rainy, cold, nasty day, I could understand,” he said. “Voter apathy in Forest Park is nothing new. When it is time for village elections, almost everyone comes out and votes, if it is an off-year, nobody shows up.”
One problem may be that the most contested races on the ballots were the Proviso Township and Proviso School District 209 races, which many Forest Parkers don’t see as relevant to their daily lives.
In fact, some view the township as an unnecessary layer of government.
“What amazes me is I thought we would get a higher turnout because the park is such a contentious race,” said Forest Park Commissioner Mark Hosty. “Where Proviso is concerned I can understand that. People don’t know what Proviso Township does, the average citizen doesn’t know what that layer of government does.”
“If you totaled up the budget of the township, high school and park district, you are looking in the $50-$80 million a year in tax dollars sent to those various taxing bodies, and the people running today are the ones who decide how it is going to be spent,” he said.
Hosty added that the problem might be that residents aren’t paying much attention to how these races are affecting them. The future of the high schools, he said, affects property values and need to be addressed today.
“I don’t understand the voter apathy and it is disappointing because there is a lot at stake here,” he said. “You got to pay attention to it now. I don’t understand why people don’t vote.”
Like Hosty, Doolin said the problem might be one of education.
“If people realized what was at stake and the amount of money [they might turn out],” he said. “A majority block of the school board could get elected today and four of those people could control how that money is spent. It is not just the money, it is the direction of the education of our students. [Tuesday’s] was a very important election that could theoretically change the political geography of Proviso for the next decade. When you put it in that perspective, today is pretty important.”