If you are like 82% of voters in Illinois you did not vote in primary elections in 2012. A quick poll of those around you likely reveals the reason: Few know how! And that’s understandable because it can be confusing. Below is a guide to help with the process.
Typically, two elections are held to determine who holds a publicly elected office such as President of the United States:
- A Primary Election or Caucus: This is when a political party (Democrat, Republican, etc.) must decide who they will put on the ballot — when we can participate in a party’s decision. In many states, including Illinois, voters do this with an open primary.
- The General Election: This is when we select who ultimately ends up in office.
The Illinois primary election is March 15, 2016
If you are generally registered to vote, you can vote in the primary election. To find out if you are registered and where to vote visit http://www.elections.il.gov/VotingInformation/RegistrationLookup.aspx . In Illinois, you simply show up to your polling place and participate by requesting a specific party’s primary ballot. It does not matter with what party you usually affiliate yourself or what party you voted with in the last primary election. You may only participate in one party’s primary each election.
About the ballot
So if you select the primary ballot for Democrats at your polling place on March 15th, you cannot then also request the Republican ballot or vice versa. On your primary ballot, you are only selecting among potentials for that party and no one from another party appears as an option. The ballot will list options for different offices (President, County Board, etc.).
The Rockford Board of Election Commissioners website lists sample ballots for Rockford, IL. You may leave options blank. It is a good idea for you to look into your options for each office. If you do not have time to do the research, you should still participate and only complete the parts of the ballot where you recognize your options. How you vote in the primary does not dictate how you must vote in the general election in November. You could participate in the Democrat’s primary election and then end up voting for a Republican in the general election. In the primaries you are Democrat or Republican; in the general election you are American.
In open primaries, some people determine whether it is more important for them to see a particular candidate succeed or a particular candidate fail and they vote in that person’s party primary. For example, if you could only imagine a world where Jane Doe (ABC Party) is POTUS then you would select the ABC party ballot and vote for Jane Doe. If you cannot bear the thought of Jane Smith (XYZ Party) being president more than you want another candidate then you would select the XYZ party ballot and vote for anyone but Jane Smith. You may want to consider who has the best chance of beating Jane Smith among your options. And that is how you vote in Illinois primaries.
Why should you bother?
The American people can only choose from the one Republican, the one Democrat, and the candidates of smaller parties come November. In the March primary you are taking options off the table– that’s a lot of power!
Considering that so few people vote in primaries in the first place, your vote carries more weight than in the general election. The general election voters play on the game board laid out by primary voters.
Regardless of your party it is important for all to participate in our democracy. Please get out and vote on March 15.