Does Winfield Need Voter Districts? Don’t Be Fooled

by Jed Skillman

The question of changing our Village electoral system seems to have popped up.  We should wonder why this now seems to be a concern.

In a well-functioning democracy voters choose their representatives.  Things go bad when representatives attempt to choose their voters.

The despised practice of “Gerrymandering” is an example of this; politicians drawing those pretzel-twisted elective districts which are designed to corral pesky voters into specific voting blocks.  The objective of this practice is to isolate political opposition, minimize voter impact and tilt the election process in a favorable direction.

Recently, a newly elected candidate for office in Winfield mailed out a flyer, unsigned, agitating for “Voter Districting”.  This same candidate ran for Village Trustee in the last election and came in fifth out of a field of eight.  Now, a year later, after working very hard to win election, he wants to make it easy on himself next time by tinkering with the election system.  He proposes we scrap the current Village-wide “at large” elections and divide Winfield into bite-sized districts so that elected officials represent only a specific neighborhood.

There are several practical and operational difficulties small communities face with Voter Districting, not the least of which is the inevitable pitting of one neighborhood against another.  We see an eagerness to engage in that ugly habit already sprouting up.

Voter Districts have little to offer voters unless for some reason they value a diminished electoral influence.  But, for a candidate Districting offers a big advantage:  Running for Trustee in a small district, rather than the whole Village makes the job of campaigning a lot simpler.  In the Districting system, after getting a few neighbors on board, the candidate may be able to ignore the concerns of the rest of the Village.  Why should he bother?  They can’t vote for him.  Districting would take a lot of the “pain” out of campaigning; a lot less walking, a lot less meeting people, a lot less work becoming familiar with broader issues.

But, I’ll let you in on a secret:  campaigning is the easy part.  Serving the residents once in office is the hard part.  Any would-be candidate who starts off wanting to slide on the work of knocking on doors, meeting people, and truthfully answering questions has no business even thinking of elected office.  When faced in an honest and conscientious manner, the job of public service is all work.

Further, one of the things a good elected official must possess is the quality of empathy.  They must be able to understand and relate to the problems of residents from all parts of the Village.  A candidate who is not a good listener would find Voter Districting very advantageous.

Besides ease of campaigning, there is another feature of Voter Districts that should be noted.

This same would-be candidate has also been a loud advocate for the commercialization of the residential neighborhood on the southern edge of Winfield.  Understandably this has upset many residents in the affected area.

Think about it:  If someone cheerfully declared himself an advocate of putting retail businesses, along with their parking lots, dumpsters and delivery vehicles across from your back yard wouldn’t you be upset?  Darn right you would.  Even if a few residents were willing to sell-out, grab the money and run, current zoning laws exist to protect the rest of the neighborhood.

Voting Districts would offer elected officials a convenient barrier against voter anger.  Come election time residents in one area of Winfield would be powerless to replace an unsuitable Trustee from a different district.  By corralling as many dissatisfied voters as possible into a small voting district any offending politician from a different district is placed out of reach at the ballot box.  Once elected and in office they have a little more wiggle room to do as they please regardless of their effect on other parts of the Village.

Only free and open elections allow citizens to express concerns in a way that makes even the most tone-deaf officials listen.  A Voting District system would only limit the voter’s ability to correct the system.

Of further note, this same trustee-elect  has been going out of his way to attack the civic organization Winfield United.  WU is made up of private citizens, all residents of the Village or the unincorporated area.  We are not a group of “politicians”.

Winfield United has a terrific record of civic activity and volunteerism, successfully assisting, year after year, at the Winfield Criterion Bike Race, Good Old Days, various Village clean-up/fix-up programs, Winfield Elementary School fund raisers, and more.

WU has also been effective in helping to elect responsible, qualified people to Village office.  The result has been a stable, steady, progress-oriented Winfield Municipal Government in a time of nation-wide economic turmoil.  If a candidate finds it easier to get elected by pitting one neighborhood against another, east against west, north against south, the result will eventually be a Village of divided, hostile groups.  Instead of a Winfield United we would have a “Winfield Every Man for Himself.

Don’t be fooled.  And don’t weaken your vote.  In a community as small as Winfield, “districting” is just another word for Divide and Conquer.

About Positive on Winfield

Positive on Winfield is a blog with articles on local issues, local events, and local interests in Winfield, IL. Positive on Winfield is the blog website of the local civic action group, Winfield United for a Better Community.

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