Illinois again seeing one of most-contested elections in 2 decades

Illinois again seeing one of most-contested elections in 2 decades

Illinois politicians have worked hard to protect incumbent state lawmakers and discourage newcomers. But that is changing for the second election cycle in a row as more Illinoisans work to get into the Illinois General Assembly.

Competitive elections have not been Illinois’ norm: from 2000 to 2020, the General Assembly averaged 64 contested races out of 118 seats, or just over half of all races.

But thanks to a new batch of candidates, that is starting to change.

In large part because of partisan gerrymandering, legislative districts remain uncompetitive through the creation of “safe” districts in which incumbents face little challenge. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave both the Illinois House and Senate maps from 2021 a grade of “C” for competitiveness and the Illinois Senate map received an “F” for partisan fairness. This is a continuation of the long tradition of using the redistricting process in the state to consolidate partisan power.

Illinois’ 53% average of uncontested Statehouse seats was the highest in the Midwest and seventh highest in the nation, according to a 50-state survey by the Illinois Policy Institute looking at elections from 2014-2019.

Despite that hostile environment, new candidates lined up to give Illinois voters a choice. The 2022 General Assembly election was one of the most competitive elections in two decades, with 79 of 118 seats being contested by at least two candidates. This year, outsider candidates are stepping up again, with 27 Illinoisians filing to run against established candidates who would otherwise face no opposition. These challengers are making sure voters have a choice for their state representatives and senators.

In addition to the primary benefit of giving voters a choice at the polls, increasing competition also increases voter turnout. A 2022 Illinois Policy Institute report showed a 7 percentage point increase in voter participation rates in contested Illinois Statehouse races as opposed to uncontested races, even when controlling for the demographic composition of districts and income levels. After a record-high level of contested seats, Illinois saw the second-highest level of turnout for a midterm election in its history.

More competition in elections correlates with lower levels of corruption, research shows. With Illinois’ long history of corruption, that would be a welcome change. Corruption was estimated to have cost each Illinoisan $830 between 2000 and 2018, and took $556 million each year.

Thanks to these candidates willing to challenge entrenched incumbents, Illinois could see less corruption, greater turnout and a real choice on Election Day. That is good news Illinois voters can feel proud of.

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