A primary election is set up to choose final candidates to face the opposition in the general election. Sometimes, it works. When you have a field of same-party candidates who all want the same job, the primary offers a way for the electorate to choose the best of that group to face the best of what the other party has to offer.
And the decision — the one that counts — is the one that’s made in November.
Unfortunately, more and more of those decisions are being made in March and April — and sometimes, they are made without any help from voters.
To make our point, we’ll use two examples from 2010: Republican Bill Brady was among a group of seven who wanted the Republican nomination for governor. He won the primary and went on to face, and barely lose, to Democrat Pat Quinn.
But in the same primary, Republican Keith Sommer was unopposed for the GOP nomination in the 106th Illinois House District and the Democrats didn’t field a candidate at all. So, in a way, the winner was decided when Sommer turned in his nominating petitions.
That’s not his fault, it’s ours.
A recent Associated Press story about the increased number of veterans seeking elective office said the number of congressmen with military service has dropped from nearly 90 percent in 1969 to about 20 percent today. You don’t have to be a soldier or sailor to serve in Congress, but the numbers likely are more reflective of a growing decrease in people who actively participate in government.
Case in point: this fall’s election, in which about half the seats in the Illinois General Assembly are uncontested. And that’s after redistricting, which should encourage new participants solely because the districts are redrawn to include new areas and, in theory at least, make them more competitive.
The lack of participants often is more obvious at the macro level — school boards, city councils — where ballots often are particularly lopsided.
Why so few people choose to seek office is unclear. It is a tremendous commitment of time and resources, requires an absolute belief in the system and shoulders strong enough to balance the public complaints with the private victories.
Some, though, are fed up before they even enter the process, because of gerrymandering and party control of finances and public positions.
If we want to have strong and effective government, we must have strong and effective candidates who are chosen by a fair and equitable process.
And that includes having more than one option on the ballot.