HOPF: Low Democratic turnout shows struggle of local party

Posted: Mar. 21, 2014 3:30 pm Updated: Jun. 14, 2014 10:15 pm

While most of the attention in last Tuesday's Illinois primary election was focused on the four-way race for the Republican nomination for governor and the three-way race for the GOP nod for Adams County clerk/recorder, overlooked was the few number of Democratic voters.

Only 17.3 percent of registered in voters cast ballots in Adams County, slightly above the percentage from four years earlier, and 90 percent of them pulled Republican ballots. Only 806 of the 7,926 ballots cast were Democratic.

There are a couple of possible scenarios for the paltry Democratic turnout. Some could have heeded the call of union leaders statewide to take Republican ballots and vote for state Sen. Kirk Dillard to try to stop venture capitalist Bruce Rauner from earning the nomination. Or the local party remains so fractured that there just wasn't much interest.

Granted, there were only two contested races on the Adams County Democratic ballot, and incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn was a runaway winner, as expected. And even though Quincy history teacher Rob Mellon was seeking the party's nomination for the U.S. House, no one expected the winner of his race with Darrel Miller to be much of a match for incumbent Aaron Schock in the fall.

But the decline in the number of Democrats locally should be alarming to party loyalists.

About 23 percent of ballots cast in 2010 were Democratic, and Democrats and Republicans had almost an equal number of ballots during the 2006 primary.

Adams County Democrats have remained splintered since 2004, when Virgil Goehl was ousted as chairman and former Mayor Verne Hagstrom was installed. The strong party apparatus that enabled Democrats to hold a majority on the Quincy City Council for more than 50 years and the mayor's office from 1985 until last spring appears to no longer exist.

Democrats still hold the city offices of treasurer and clerk, and the county positions of sheriff and circuit clerk. But Republicans hold clear majorities on both the City Council and County Board, as well as all other elected positions.

And the prospects for the November election don't appear to be much better for Democrats, either.

The party has yet to field a candidate to oppose newly selected Randy Frese for the 94th District Illinois House seat being vacated by state Rep. Jil Tracy of Quincy. Adams County Treasurer Terry Asher is unopposed so far in his bid for a second term.

Democrats weren't prepared to field a candidate for county clerk/recorder in case three-term incumbent Georgia Volm chose not to run again, which allowed political novice Jonathan Schoenakase to file at the last minute and earn the nod when Volm bowed out.

Both Republicans and Democrats consider Schoenakase a flawed candidate. He was convicted of a felony in his youth and is most recently known for fighting the city for operating an unlicensed taxi service. An attempt by Democrats to try to remove Schoenakase from the ballot last fall was rejected because it was not filed within the mandatory time period.

That leaves Chuck Venvertloh, who prevailed in the GOP primary, as the odd's-on favorite to win in November. If he does, Venvertloh would be the first Republican to ever hold the post.

"We're going to be out there working hard," he told The Herald-Whig last week.

It remains to be seen if Democrats will.