The real winner in Illinois legislative races on Election Day was The Unopposed Candidate.
Even if voters had decided they wanted wholesale change in Springfield on Nov. 6, it wouldn't have mattered. Most of the candidates in both the House and the Senate were running unopposed.
The state Senate has 59 members, and - because this was a redistricting year - there were races in every district. Or, at least, there could have been races in every district. But in 30 districts, only one candidate was running.
Similarly, in the House, there was no contest in 69 of the 118 districts.
And even where there were races, it's not like they were competitive battles over ideas: In 17 of them, the winning candidate got 65 percent or more of the vote.
Of course, voters are supposed to get two chances to state their preferences: in the primary election, and then the general. But the candidates who ran unopposed in the general election often were not vetted by voters in the primary races, either. As reported in an earlier post, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform found that 46 House candidates and 21 Senate candidates ran unopposed in both the primary and general elections.
That means 40.7 percent of the House seats and 35.6 percent of the Senate seats will be occupied by politicians who didn't have to face the voters at any point along the way.
The breakdown by party: 36 Democrats and 31 Republicans got a free pass at the ballot box from start to finish.
A big part of the uncompetitiveness in Illinois races is due to gerrymandering. This time around, the Democrats ran the process of redrawing legislative district boundaries, and by confining lots of Democrats voters in some districts and Republicans voters to others, they minimized the areas where candidates from both parties could hope to be competitive.
"This is not an unintended consequence - it is an intended consequence," one former legislator said. "It allows them to minimize the districts where they have to spend money, so they can focus on the swing districts."
Another factor thinning out the ranks of potential candidates this year might have been the unappetizing prospects for the next General Assembly. This year's winning candidates will be asked to raise taxes and cut spending spending, which is less fun than cutting taxes and increasing spending.
Read a Sun-Times editorial about gerrymandering here.
Read an Illinois Campaign for Political Reform report, "How Partisan Mapmaking Denies Voters Real Choices," here.
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