Breaking Down Your Ballot
Starting from the top! (of your midterm ballot, that is)
Whether you’ve seen their upbeat-yet-somber TV ads enough times to make you go nuts, or you’ve never even heard of their office before, every name on your ballot matters.
While it might seem easier to choose the very first name on the ballot, or the judge with the most Irish-sounding surname, we at State Matters believe that actually understanding the offices and responsibilities these candidates will take on can help you make a much more informed choice.
So we’ve broken it down for you. Read on to get some all important knowledge bombs about your midterm ballot!
Let’s start high level. Here are the offices on your Nov 6th ballot, with a few offices varying based on where you live:
- U.S. Representative (House of Representatives)
- Governor & Lieutenant Governor (on the same ticket)
- Attorney General
- Secretary of State
- Illinois State House Representative
- Illinois State Senator (depending on your district)
Regional and County offices:
- Regional Superintendent of Schools
- Supreme Court Judge (depending on your district)
- Appellate Judge (depending on your district)
- Circuit-Court or Sub-Circuit Court Judge
- County Clerk
- County Treasurer
- County Sheriff
- Other County officials (depending on your district)
Time to dig in. What does my U.S. House Representative do for me and my community?
Your U.S. Congressperson is one of three elected legislators serving as your voice in Washington (the other two are your state’s U.S. Senators, neither of whom are up for re-election in 2018).
Your member of Congress gets to pass laws that affect the entire country, decide how to spend your federal income tax dollars, and has the power to impeach the President — just some of the pretty important things they do.
Okay, I get the whole U.S. Congressperson deal, but why should I give a fig about who is elected to state government offices?
Change starts from the bottom up — at the local and state level. Most aspects of your daily life — from the quality and resources of your local schools to fixing potholes and treating your drinking water all start with your state and local officials. You should give most of your figs about your local government, and your elected representatives want to receive your figs too! Completely figuratively — and platonically — of course!
The highest-elected official in the state’s government, the governor basically acts as the president of Illinois. They not only have the authority to sign or veto any laws passed by the Illinois General Assembly, but they also carry out those laws and oversee various committees and offices, including the approval of the state budget,which can have major effects on schools,healthcare, and local state aid.
Learn more about the governor’s office and our current governor, Bruce Rauner, here.
Second-in-command to the governor, the lieutenant governor helps carry out a state’s laws and oversee various duties and committees. Just like the VP to the U.S president, the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket.
Learn more about the office and our current lieutenant governor, Evelyn Sanguinetti, here.
While the attorney general isn’t your go-to if you were, for instance, caught attempting to smuggle two dozen box turtles into O’Hare, you can rest a little easier knowing that they are out there advocating for your civil and consumer rights. The attorney general’s main role is helping the governor enforce laws and representing our rights in front of the federal court system, bringing cases against individuals, companies, or even government entities. In some cases, these trials can go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Illinois’ current attorney general, Lisa Madigan, was the first woman elected to the position (in 2003) and the first state attorney general in 25 years to argue a case before the Supreme Court. She announced in 2017 that she’s not running for re-election.
Learn more about the role of the state attorney general here.
Secretary of State
Of all the government offices, you’re likely interacting most often with the secretary of state. Whether you’re checking Paul Edward’s 2003 “How to Rap” from the library or renewing the registration on your 2001 Plymouth Prowler, it’s all overseen by the secretary of state.
Jesse White, Illinois’ current secretary of state, and the first African-American elected to the office in 1998, is also Illinois’ longest running. In 2017 he announced that he would seek reelection in 2018.
Official website: http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/
The comptroller controls the state checkbook, from writing paychecks to overseeing the money raised from state taxes. When we want to ensure that our budget is being followed and money is going to all the right places, the comptroller is there, acting as an auditor for all state accounts.
Official website: https://illinoiscomptroller.gov/
Similar to the comptroller, the treasurer oversees Illinois’ finances but is not the top fiscal officer (that title rests with the comptroller). The treasurer oversees invested funds and is responsible for monitoring state money once it is dispersed by the comptroller.
Due to their similarity, the two offices are have been considered for a merger. This idea recently made headlines over the summer.
Official website: http://www.illinoistreasurer.gov/
State House Representative
Just as the governor acts as the President of Illinois, your state house representative acts as your congressperson to the Illinois House of Representatives. Illinois is divided into 118 districts that each elect their own house representative.
Your state representative is elected to represent you when it comes to proposing, drafting, and voting on Illinois state laws, and on the state budget. Looking for lower state taxes or more funding for your favorite programs? Your State House Representative is a good place to start.
Each representative serves for two years, so in 2018, all 118 seats are up for re-election.
Official website: http://www.ilga.gov/house/
As the other half of the General Assembly, the Illinois Senate comprises 59 state senators from districts across the state. Like your state house representative, your Senator represents you and your district when they create and vote on state laws and the state budget — including state taxes.
Your state senator is another great person to be familiar with in order to weigh in on how the state both collects and spends its money.
Each representative serves for four years, and in 2018, 39 of the 59 seats are up for re-election.
Official website: http://www.ilga.gov/senate/
Moving on down…the ballot
Are you already thinking about the Thai coconut curry you’re going to get for lunch? Stop! You’ve eaten curry four times this week already. There’s more! Like a delicious curry, your ballot is stuffed with more nutritious regional and local offices up for election, and spicy judicial candidates.
Okay, but should I actually care about the regional and local offices?
Listen, we know that you can’t always just meditate your way to happiness. If you want things in your community to get better, you need to start with your regional and local offices. These officials are making decisions on your behalf right in your backyard that will directly affect you — like how to use your local property and sales tax dollars to buy textbooks, protect your local forest preserve, assess property values, and oversee police and firefighters..
Here’s a quick cheat sheet about what your regional and local officials are doing for you:
- Oversees your public schools (Regional Superintendent of Schools)
- Ensures that elections are free, fair, and accessible (County Clerk)
- Determines the accurate value of your property (County Assessor)
- Collects your property taxes (County Treasurer)
- Sets guidelines for police conduct and discipline (County Sheriff)
- Administers county courts, jails, transportation, and social services (County Board Member/Commissioner)
- Ensures access to public records (County Recorder)
- Protects your water resources (Sanitation Commissioners/Trustees)
- Keeps other elected officials honest (County Auditor)
- Certifies deaths in the community (County Coroner)
All Illinois counties have a county board, county clerk, county treasurer, and county sheriff, but the other offices are optional and can vary throughout the state. Read on if you want to learn a bit more about each of these local elected officials.
Regional Superintendent of Schools
Illinois has been divided into 45 regional school districts, each with its own elected regional superintendent. Superintendents manage all of the schools in their district, making sure they are delivering high-quality education and sticking to state curriculum requirements.
The regional superintendent is also responsible for distributing both state and federal education funds and ensuring schools have the support services they need to succeed.
Official website: https://www.isbe.net/roe
Illinois Supreme Court Judge
Made up of seven judges, the Illinois Supreme Court has the final decision-making power on Illinois laws. While many appeals cases in Illinois are first heard in lower courts, a number of cases go directly to the state Supreme Court, giving these judges the power to set precedents that affect our state laws.
Unlike the Federal Supreme Court, Illinois Supreme Court judges are elected to 10-year terms. There is currently one judge up for retention in 2018.
Learn more here.
Appellate judges work on the second tier of the Illinois court system, called the court of appeals, where they review cases and decisions made at the circuit court level. With the power to confirm, reject, or modify the rulings of the lower courts, appellate judges play a particularly important role in many civil and criminal cases.
There are currently 42 appellate judges in Illinois, and 5 are up for either retention or election in 2018.
Official website: http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/AppellateCourt/default.asp
More info: http://www.ilga.gov/commission/lrb/con6.htm
Circuit-Court or Sub-Circuit Court Judge
Sometimes referred to as trial judges, circuit court (and sub-circuit court) judges hear and rule on civil and criminal cases throughout Illinois, from traffic tickets to lawsuits. In the largest districts, the circuit court is divided up into subcircuits. Sub-circuit court judges have the same responsibilities, more or less, as circuit judges. Regardless, each judge is elected to a six-year term.
Read all about Illinois judges from State Matters here.
Official website: http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/CircuitCourt/default.asp
More info: http://www.ilga.gov/commission/lrb/con6.htm
Similar to the Illinois Secretary of State, the county clerk is likely the official in your county you interact with most, from their oversight on local, state, and federal elections — including where to vote and how to register — to getting copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates. Also, while the county clerk doesn’t set any tax rates, they do play a significant role in collecting your taxes.
Your county treasurer is the official eye on your county’s checking account. They are responsible for the county’s tax revenue, disbursing money to county agencies, and investing money not currently being used.
The sheriff is the top cop in your county. While a particular town or city may also have their own police, the sheriff oversees the county police force and the jail. They are also in charge of protecting and supporting the courthouse, including court summons and evictions. Just like other town or city police officers, the sheriff can issue you a speeding ticket (or a citation for unlawful turtle racing in a public roadway), although they tend to focus on areas of the county not already supported by police, such as areas outside the city limits.
County Board Member / Commissioner
Your county board member is the legislative and executive branch of your county government. As a group, board members act as both local congress and president within your county, from proposing and passing ordinances to creating and adopting a county budget. They are also responsible for setting county tax rates, including your property taxes.
In some counties, the county board member may be referred to as a county commissioner.
Learn more here: http://www.ilcounty.org/home
Cook County Board President
The Cook County board president is the top officer of the Cook County government, in charge of running board meetings, overseeing various county departments, and ultimately presenting the Board of Commissioners with a balanced budget. Similar to the Illinois governor, the board president can either approve or veto ordinances passed by the board, giving them a big say in what local ordinances actually go into effect.
Your county auditor is the person who double checks the work of all other county departments. They verify how money is spent and taxes are collected, while sharing the county’s day-to-day operations with the public.
If you own property, you may already be familiar with this role and either love or hate your county assessor. Its their job to determine the value of land and property, which then determines your property tax. Those tax values then determine how much money goes into the local government and schools.
The assessor is also responsible for working with other government agencies to facilitate economic growth and the development and accessibility of affordable housing.
Already familiar to fans of crime dramas, the coroner certifies a death if it appears to be from a crime or an unnatural cause. If needed, the county corner is also responsible for conducting an investigation to determine the cause of death and filing a death certificate.
The county recorder is the record keeper for the county government. From mortgages and deeds to liens, the office is also responsible for maintaining property maps and making them available for free public access.
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Commissioner
Members of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commission are responsible for protecting Lake Michigan, monitoring water quality, preventing flooding, and ensuring health and safety in local water consumption.
North Shore Water Reclamation District Trustee
As a member of the North Shore Water Reclamation District, the trustee promotes public health and safety by overseeing wastewater treatment for the eastern part of Lake County Illinois.
More info: http://www.northshoresanitary.org/
Board of Review
The Cook County Board of Review is responsible for re-evaluating property assessments if a resident feels their value was assessed to be too high, causing them to receive too high of a property tax bill.
More info: https://cookcountyboardofreview.com/
If that seemed like a lot…it was. Your midterm ballot has a lot of people to know and make decisions about. But that’s okay because voting is an open book test! If you haven’t yet, check out our friends at ballotready.org to see your ballot before your vote and choose the best candidates for you. Save your choices and take your notes right into the voting booth!
Love the idea but looking for more? Make voting a social event and host a ballot party!