The Politics of Townships

Mike Walkup

This installment of McHenry County Board member-elect Mike Walkup’s thoughts on township government concerns the political aspect.


One of the main arguments for the continuation of townships is that the offices of Assessor and Road Commissioner are elected and that township government, being physically smaller than the county, is therefore more accountable to the people via the electoral process.

There is some surface appeal to this argument.

However, it is belied once you look at how the elections for township offices are actually held.

Elections for township office are held every four years in odd numbered years in the Spring.

The next one will be in April of 2013.

The general election portion of the township election coincides with elections for municipal offices and school boards, which are known as the Consolidate Elections.

2009 Republican Algonquin Township Trustee candidates Joe Powalowski and and Niels Sorensen were two of four who won the GOP primary election. They teamed up to share sign costs in a year when Democrats fielded candidates by way of a caucus. Powalowski is holding the sign.

Voter turnout at Consolidated Elections is invariably low, unless there is some type of taxing referendum on the ballot at the same time.

Typically, turnout in years with no taxing referenda is around 15% to 20%.

If more people are coming in to vote for a taxing referendum, they usually only know about that referendum and are not familiar with the candidates for township offices which they are surprised to see also on the ballot.

They will either not vote for those offices or will guess their way through that portion.

In the more populous townships which have adopted partisan elections, the situation is much worse.

No Democrat has ever been elected to township office in McHenry County so far as I am aware.  [Not on the Demcoratic Party label, as far as I know.]

Therefore, the Republican primary become tantamount to the entire election.

People who show up for the general election are usually even more Republican oriented than the population of voters who vote in general elections like the one we just had.

When, then, IS the Republican primary for township offices?

You may be surprised to learn that it is in February, 2013.

[Filing for GOP primaries in Algonquin, Dorr, Grafton, McHenry and Nunda Townships is from November 19th through 26th.  Petitions must be filed with the township clerk, along with a statement of candidacy and receipt from the filing of a Statement of Economic Interest with the County Clerk’s Office.  These must be stapled together.  Pages must be numbered.]

Very, very, very few people show up for this election, making it easier for townships to overwhelm the vote with their supporters.

Typically the turnouts for the primary are in the single digits percentage wise.

This assumes that there even IS a Republican primary.

There does not necessarily have to be one.

If they want, the precinct committeemen of the township Republican Party can vote at one of their meetings (which the public does not attend) to select all of the township candidates by caucus.

Then there is no primary and the general election is a foregone conclusion.

Oftentimes, various township officials or their spouses are also Republican precinct committeemen .

When do you vote for your Republican Party precinct committeemen?

You do that in the primary election in even numbered years, but only if you vote in the Republican primary.

Only about a third of the registered voters vote in either primary.

The precinct committeeman position is at the very end of the ballot, and is usually uncontested.

Virtually no one knows that this vote can, in effect, determine who the township officials will be the following year.

Dorr Township is moving to new digs and managed to do so without holding a referendum to request voter approval.


It has been commented on this blog that it is the Democrats who are interested in abolishing townships because most townships are in Republican areas and this would get rid of some Republican office holders and patronage jobs.

Actually, the movement to abolish townships in Illinois was started by a paralegal named Mike Richardson, who is a Republican and who lives in an area where the Democrats control the townships.

Bob Anderson, who spearheaded the effort in McHenry County, is very much a Republican.

The City of Evanston has placed an advisory referendum on the ballot to abolish Evanston Township, both of those bodies being Democratic.  [It should be noted that Evanston Township has the same bounaries

Final installment: Are Townships Ready for Reform?


The Politics of Townships — 16 Comments

  1. If Mr. Walkup wanted to do something constructive he would advocate for OPEN primaries where voters can vote for a democrat committeeman on the same ballot that they vote for a republican member of the state legislature or Congress.

    He would advocate for the removal of the forced usage of “three year” sales averages by Township Assessors and advocate for usage of current sales averages.

    Does he by any chance have a friend, relative or acquaintance on the Assessment Board of Review and he is protecting his / her job?

    Instead, he promotes bigger, higher cost government.

    It is further suggested he stick to his township and not attempt to paint all townships with the same brush because his ignorance shows.

  2. Cal’s in love and conflicted.

    One day it’s with Linda Moore and the next day it’s with Mike Walkup.

  3. Exactly why should you expect vote for a Democrat committeemen if you are not a Democrat?

    How about removing the patrician ship from local government?

    Why should you need to declare a party for county board? or for township?

    I personally do not see any benefit from township govenrment.

  4. Still no policy arguments against abolishing townships.

    I’ve seen a historical argument.

    I’ve seen a political argument.

    I’ve seen an “attack the messenger” argument.

    But have yet to see a policy argument for why we should protect township governments.

  5. The argument that they are the closest form of government for rural areas is the same argument they use for why small towns should keep their post offices.

    The Efficiency and less government argument only holds water for these posts when they are pointing the finger at Spkr. Madigan or Pres. Obama.

    It quickly falls apart when talking about their own power center.

  6. dave: There is no argument against townships.

    They are outmoded, redundant and a place to house patronage and the incompetent.

    Cal: You are consistent in printing whatever someone sends you, but Walkup (forget his hypocritical poltics and policies) is drowning everyone in his rantings.

    Unless he is paying you for space, I’d give it a rest.

  7. i second the statement about Cal’s love affair with Walkup

    Its time for a rest from walkup.

  8. Based on low turnout at Township elections it suggests that people are satisfied with the job being done.

    Low turnouts also suggest that it would be easy for anti-township folks, Demecrats or other parties to elect Township Officials since they would only have to mobilize a small number of their supporters to win elections.

    The post office does not plow the snow in front of homes on Township Roads, Townships do.

    A delay in your letter does not reflect a threat to your safety.

    Not getting the snow plowed does.

    The last big snow storm we had the Township roads were open but none of the other roads were.

    The State Highway was closed for three days.

    The County was better but still struggled to get their roads open and keep them open.

    Makes sense that the Townships should also plow those roads and be reimbursed by the State and County.

    Eliminating Township Government does not make smaller government.

    This would merely centralize the power and resources in one location when the best service and bang for the buck is to decentralize and move the resources where they are used.

  9. No Actually Preston you have it all wrong. The off year Township election is really known as the Incumbent Protection Act.

    Signatures are due in about three weeks after the Presidential General Election. Voters:

    #1 do not think about Township politics leading up to a general election. And if you try to pass petitions before the general election people think you are crazy. Moreover, even solid voters will not sign petitions as they cannot see that far down the road.

    #2 Very short turn around between general election and filing deadline in partisan primaries. This year it is the 26th. While only requiring 30 signatures, you still do not have a lot of time to decide if you want to run or not.

    #3 Partisan primary is at the end of February this year, the 26th. Not many voters will have people going door to door asking to vote. Usually we have a few feet of snow on the ground. This means you need $$$ for mailers and phone calls.

    #4 The primary is February 26th, which means turn out will naturally be low.

    People do not necessarily like the people in government – but it doesn’t get the same level of media coverage that a presidential election gets which empowers the Hard Ds and Hard Rs.

    With all the attention Grafton is getting, it will be interesting to see how all that shakes out.

  10. While I do not like the fact we have layers and layers of government and taxing entities in Illinois, when talking about eliminating townships, all entities need to be on the table.

    South of the McHenry-Kane County border is Dundee Township.

    Over the years, voters in the township created entities through referendum that eventually broke-off from the township government (Park District, Public Library district).

    Back in 1996, township voters through referendum created the 2nd Township Open Space district in the state (at the time), and since early 1997, hundreds of acres have been acquired with the bond money voters approved.

    Unlike other township services started by referendum, this one has not broken-away from the township.

    The township supervisor, who is passionate about open space and was a leader in the referendum’s approval in 1996 (as well as its initial failure in 1989) has this responsibility, as well as the other functions Mr. Walkup has written about in this series.

    Voters here in Dundee Township (which includes nearly 8,500 residents of the village of Algonquin including Township Assessor Mike Bielak) have been satisfied with the services of the township, including the Open Space district.

    The days of acquiring properties are gone since the bond money has run out, but the township, through grants and a maintenance agreement with the Kane County Forest Preserve District, and other creative/legal means, have stretched the dollars to also function as a local Forest Preserve District that voters chose through referendum to implement.

    Please, the next time the McHenry County Natural Area Volunteers host a guided hike of the Dixie Briggs Fromm Nature Preserve (usually 3 times a year) just outside Algonquin, please see how open space has been successfull preserved.

    This doesn’t mean to halt examine/reexamine why Illinois has so many different units of government (and the one that baffles me the most is elementary school districts and high school districts) and consolidating those that need consolidating.

    I’m personally satisfied with township services I receive, though as a voter, I challenge our township officials to do better.

    More often then not, they deliver.

  11. Not to get off topic, but in talking about smaller government or more centralized (and in theory more efficient), the Park District should give up its police department.

    This is another redundancy in services that our government provides.

  12. Nice discussion everyone. It took a while.

    (1) I am in favor of all local government being non partisan and having open ballot primaries. Both parties are against both. In Wisconsin, most of the local offices are non partisan.

    (2) The majority of the states do not have townships.

    (3) 17 counties in Illinois do not have townships.

    (4) The Park District has in fact been discussing reducing it’s police force.

    (5) The next brief installment will be the last. After that it’s up to readers to file for township offices or not.

    A township Board can place a referendum on the ballot to abolish the township under the State Constitution, as the Constitution does not specify how the referendum is to be placed on the ballot and the GA has not acted on that avenue. Citizens can also circulate a petition.

    Talk is cheap, action takes effort. If you don’t act soon, the GA may close the loophole.

  13. If Mike walkup is for non partisan positions, why would he declare himself a democrat in an already non partisan position.

    eems contradictory to me….

  14. Township elections create seas of yard signs all over the County.

    I give the voters enough credit to, notice these signs,that there are names on the signs, they say vote and have a position being run for.

    If the voters do not come out and vote it is because they are not energized to do so.

    This suggests a level of satisfaction with the status quo.

    Townships look at sharing resources all of the time.

    Many times there are no savings and sometimes Townships cooperate with each other to reduce expenses and manpower.

    I am amazed that anyone would not believe this is already being done

    Only a handful of Townships in the County have staff to handle General Assistance.

    In most Townships this function is handled by the Township Supervisor.

    There are virtually no expenses that would be eliminated by consolidating this function with other Townships.

    Centralizing a GA office will necessitate people who are already in need to trapse all over the County to seek GA instead of in their own community.

    I have never had a GA client that had a car.

    This will create additional hardship to travel to a remote office.

    In general, I notice that what has been presented as “the facts” presented throughout this editorial seem to be directed at a few Townships and are not accurate for the majority of Townships in McHenry County (or in the entire State).

    The only facts are from an eight year old study performed, in of all places, Cook County.

    here just isn’t any value in this comparrison.

    It appears that some folks who don’t like Townships have no interest in considering other points of view.

    It’s a free Country.

    Count your blessings and enjoy your family and friends this Thanksgiving.

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