Democracy is not a spectator sport, so the saying goes.
Thousands of registered voters who avoided Tuesday’s primary apparently beg to differ.
Whiteside County saw only 15 percent of registered voters go to the polls.
Lee County had a 27 percent turnout.
Ogle County’s turnout was 31 percent.
Put another way, 85 percent of registered voters shunned the polls in Whiteside County. That’s more than 31,000 people.
In Lee, 73 percent (nearly 17,000) stayed away. In Ogle, 69 percent (more than 20,000) didn’t vote.
Bureau and Carroll counties weren’t much different. Bureau had a 21.2 percent turnout; Carroll’s was 25.1 percent.
The majority of voters who are spectators certainly must have a lot of faith in the minority who actually vote.
The 31 percent of Ogle residents who voted essentially elected a sheriff and state’s attorney. They awarded the Republican nomination for sheriff to Brian VanVickle, who edged Sheriff Michael Harn by 136 votes. They awarded the Republican nomination for state’s attorney to Eric Morrow, who defeated the incumbent, Mike Rock, by 477 votes.
No Democrats appeared on the ballot for those posts, and none traditionally are placed on the ballot by the party after the primary.
Therefore, VanVickle and Morrow will likely cruise to victory on Nov. 4.
Deposed by a minority of voters, Harn and Rock will leave office Nov. 30.
In Lee County, with its 27 percent turnout, a sheriff was also removed from office. Sheriff John Varga was upended by challenger John Simonton; the margin of victory was 745 votes.
In Whiteside County, with few contested races on the ballot, one ballot issue still had the potential to affect the pocketbooks of all residents – the 1 percent sales tax referendum.
The 85 percent majority of voters who didn’t vote essentially entrusted the decision to the 15 percent minority, who rejected the proposed new tax that would have helped fix school buildings and infrastructure.
The apathetic majority also missed out on the chance to impact statewide races for gubernatorial nominations in both parties, and the U.S. Senate, state treasurer, and 16th District U.S. House nominations in the Republican Party.
Low voter turnout in primary elections is not new. If more people carried the weight when weighty decisions are called for, however, the results would be more representative of the public at large, and they might have even turned out differently.
Because thousands of voters stayed on the sidelines, we’ll never know.