Breaking Down the Ballot: A Guide to the 2018 Midterm Elections

 /  Nov. 2, 2018, 1:16 a.m.


Erik Hersman

This guide, a collaboration between The Gate and University of Chicago Democracy Initiative (UCDI), outlines most of the positions, candidates, and measures on the ballots of University of Chicago campus residents for the 2018 midterm elections. It's by no means a comprehensive survey as much as a synopsis for students balancing their civic midterms duty with a barrage of midterm exams. You also might find slight variations on your ballot, depending on the proximity of your address to the university.

Those with a little more time on their hands might also scroll through Injustice Watch’s reviews of the fifty-nine circuit court judges seeking re-confirmation.

Early voting takes place on campus at Reynold’s club from October 31 through November 2, 10 AM to 5 PM. Election day voting locations can be found on the Illinois Voter Registration website.

-Alia Shahzad

Illinois’s First Congressional District (CD), stretches from Chicago’s south side and includes some of the city’s southwestern suburbs. The individual elected is responsible for serving the residents of the First CD. More specifically, our representative is responsible for voting on legislation in Congress, serving on Congressional committees, writing legislation, and providing constituent services.

Bobby Rush (Incumbent) (Democrat) has represented Illinois’s First CD since 1993. As a result of his long tenure, he has acquired considerable seniority in the house. Rush serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he is the ranking member (highest-ranking Democrat) of the Subcommittee on Energy. Rush is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Rush is characterized as a loyal Democrat, and has, in recent sessions of Congress, voted with his party 94 percent of the time. Rush, who lost his youngest son to gun violence in 1999, has called gun violence an “epidemic” and is a vocal supporter of increased background checks, closing gun show loopholes, and supports an assault weapons ban. Bobby Rush voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, opposes the construction of a wall on our border with Mexico, and supports the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented by President Obama in 2012. Stating that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 “hurt many average Americans” and “provide[s] several tax benefits for the wealthiest Americans and corporations,” Rush, along with the rest of his party, voted against the bill last year.

Rush has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood, a 94 percent rating from the ACLU, and earned a “B” from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, but conversely has earned a “4” from the American Conservative Union.

Jeremy “Jimmy” Lee Tillman III (Republican) ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2014, receiving only 27 percent of the vote. However, Tillman believes that the election of President Trump makes his candidacy more compelling than back in 2014. Tillman has stated that “the black American community needs a representative that will meet with the president to articulate issues such as military style policing, the Flint water crisis, and criminal justice reform.” He criticizes the Democratic Party for its relationship with Trump, stating that “America is too great to be torn apart by leaders that are too angry to meet.”

Tillman’s candidacy has attracted considerable interest for a district as strongly democratic as this (Hillary Clinton carried the First CD with 75 percent of the vote), earning endorsements from the University of Chicago College Republicans and the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune’s endorsement presents Tillman as new blood in a district which has been represented by an entrenched incumbent for nearly 30 years, lambasting Rush’s high percentage of missed votes (27.2 percent in 2017) and his legal issues concerning a $1.1 million delinquent bank loan. Tillman seeks to unseat Bobby Rush and provide the First Congressional District with new, albeit unconventional, blood.

Thomas Rudbeck (Independent) is running on a platform of property tax reductions, marijuana legalization and taxation, and a public option for healthcare.

-Andrew Hallowell

The governor is the chief executive of the state of Illinois. In addition to overseeing the executive branch of the state government, the governor has line item veto power over the state legislature.

Bruce Rauner (Republican, Incumbent) is running on a platform that includes enacting term limits for political positions, redistricting, cutting taxes, and reforming the criminal justice system. During his tenure as Governor, Rauner signed a compromise bill to increase public education funding paired with tax credits to fund private school tuition, but also cut funding for programs including higher education, Medicaid, and state employee pensions in the name of fiscal responsibility. He also vetoed nearly every budget that passed in front of his desk—last June, he passed his first state budget since taking office in 2014—claiming that these bills would only worsen the state’s financial problems. The vetoes created a backlog of unpaid bills, imperiling the provision of social services and higher educational institutions and threatening the state’s ability to meet its fiscal obligations. Rauner’s administration has also recently received criticism for its handling of failing to prevent a lethal Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the state-run Quincy Veterans Home.

Rauner supports “right to work” laws, which prohibit employers from requiring unionization as a condition of employment. He also supports increasing the national minimum wage or state minimum wage paired with pro-business reforms and tax breaks. Rauner has taken a moderate stance on sanctuary cities—he signed a bill that stops local law enforcement from arresting people based off their immigration status, but also has said that he does not support sanctuary cities. In regards to social issues, he is pro-choice and is not opposed to same-sex marriage. He has often stated he has “no social agenda.”

Rauner attended Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School before becoming an investment banker and amassing significant wealth. His philanthropic efforts include supporting multiple charter schools and the regional Red Cross headquarters in Chicago.

J.B. Pritzker (Democrat) is a venture capitalist, co-founder of the Pritzker Group and heir to the multibillion dollar Hyatt Hotel chain fortune. His platform focuses on resisting Donald Trump, expanding affordable healthcare, upholding the Paris climate agreement within the state of Illinois, and protecting the rights of minority groups. He supports the implementation of a progressive income tax system and the legalization of marijuana. Pritzker also supports making a public healthcare option available to Illinois residents. He wants to combat the opioid epidemic by focusing on substance abuse education and increasing access to mental health and substance abuse treatment. He is pro-choice and is supported by the political arm of Planned Parenthood. Additionally, he has been a longtime LGBT rights advocate, and pledges to pass legislation protecting and supporting LGBT people. Pritzker is also a proponent of net neutrality. A controversial FBI wiretap recording of a conversation between Pritzker and then-Governor Rod Blagojevich caused many to accuse him of involvement in Blagojevich’s schemes to sell political offices; however, no legal action has been taken.

Born in California, J.B. Pritzker attended Duke University and Northwestern Law School. He has been a major advocate and financial supporter of early childhood education, including the University of Chicago’s Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood Development.

-Isaiah Milbauer

In Illinois, the lieutenant governor (lt. gov.) is elected on the same ticket as the governor. The lt. gov. is the first in line to succeed the governor, and plays a role similar to the vice president’s, including representing the governor and the state at various events and leading his or her own initiatives, usually at the behest of the governor.

Evelyn Sanguinetti (Republican, Incumbent) has been Illinois lt. gov. since 2014, when Bruce Rauner took office. The first Latina to be Illinois lt. gov., Sanguinetti was a lawyer before she entered politics. Despite disagreeing with Governor Rauner’s recent expansion of abortion access, Sanguinetti is committed to his goals of enacting term limits and redistricting reform. She is also focused on limiting tax increases for Illinois residents.

Juliana Stratton (Democrat) has been the representative for Illinois District 5 for the past year. Prior to her entry into politics, she worked as a lawyer and served as executive director of both the Cook County Justice for Children initiative and the Cook County Justice Advisory Council. If elected, she will lead the to-be-created Office of Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Opportunity, focusing on reforming the state criminal justice system, legalizing marijuana, reducing recidivism, and making changes to the juvenile justice system. She also aims to empower historically disadvantaged communities within the state by increasing investment and healthcare in low-income areas.

-Alex Shura

The winner of this election will represent District 25 in the Illinois House of Representatives, the lower house in Illinois’s bicameral state legislature. Only one candidate, the Democratic nominee, will appear on the ballot.

Curtis J. Tarver II (Democrat) is a trial attorney, former businessman, and former assistant to Mayor Richard M. Daley. He supports legalizing marijuana and emphasizes a rehabilitation-oriented approach to criminal justice. Tarver believes that campaign finance reform is not a pressing issue. On fiscal issues, Tarver is opposed to spending cuts, instead favoring revenue-raising approaches to balance the state’s budget, such as moving to a graduated income tax. Tarver opposes cuts to ease the state’s pension obligations, instead favoring the position taken by public sector labor unions.

-David Whyman

The secretary of state is the official keeper of records of the state of Illinois, including the power of issuance of motor vehicle registration and driver licenses. In addition, the secretary of state is the custodian of the state capital as well as the official state librarian.

Jesse White (Democrat, Incumbent) is running for his sixth term as Illinois Secretary of State. In his past terms, White has implemented policies designed to curb corruption such as setting restrictions on political fundraising and strengthening the inspector general’s office. In 2009, White refused to certify Roland Burris’s nomination to the US Senate due to his being nominated by current governor, Rod Blagojevich, who was facing allegations of corruption. He also tightened traffic safety regulations by tightening restrictions on DUI offenders.

Jason Helland (Republican) is currently serving as Grundy County State’s attorney. One of the main issues in his campaign is placing term limits on state-level political offices. He wants to remove Michael Madigan as speaker of the house and has criticized incumbent Jesse White’s role in supporting and carrying out Madigan’s policies. Helland also promises to modernize the office of secretary of state as well as the DMV by allowing for certain services to be provided via internet and phone.

Steve Dutner (Libertarian) has worked as a Libertarian activist in many organizations, most recently serving as the activism director for the Libertarian Party of Illinois. His primary goal is to privatize driver services in the state by outsourcing them to private businesses. He also promises to reduce spending in the office and eliminate redundant services offered by the office of the secretary of state. Further, Dutner wants to drastically lower fees involved in driving classes and obtaining a driver’s license.

- Gianluca Yong

The attorney general of Illinois is the state’s lawyer, and serves as legal counsel to the legislature. Their job is to ensure that the laws of Illinois are respected, and take organizations or individuals who violate Illinois law to court. They also investigate and have the power to prosecute ethics violations within state government. The current race for Illinois Attorney General is unique because the current AG, Democrat Lisa Madigan, is not running for re-election.

Kwame Raoul (Democrat) is a former state senator, representing the Hyde Park/Kenwood area in a senate seat held previously by Barack Obama. Before becoming a senator, Raoul was a prosecutor in the Cook County Attorney’s office. He supports moving Illinois towards a progressive income tax structure, ratifying the equal rights amendment within Illinois, enforcing strict penalties for elected officials who betray public trust, and increasing the timeliness and robustness of Freedom of Information Act requests within Illinois. He has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood Action of Illinois.

Erika Harold (Republican) is a graduate of the University of Illinois and Harvard Law School, as well as winner of the 2003 Miss America beauty pageant. Harold has worked as an attorney for prestigious litigation groups including Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, P.C. as well as Sidley Austin LLP. She supports an increase in the investigatory tools available to the state’s attorney, combating sexual harassment, and expanding problems solving courts—such as mental health and drug courts. Harold thinks that the attorney general’s office should do more to help public bodies comply with Freedom of Information requests. She has been endorsed by the Chicago Tribune.

Bubba Harsy (Libertarian) is currently working in a private law practice. He supports increasing corruption charges for guilty public officials, capping taxpayer funded salaries at $220,000, term limits for General Assembly members, would like to legalize cannabis and hemp, and is an advocate for pension reform.

-Sarah Wasik

The Cook County Board President leads the Cook County Board in managing county affairs, levying taxes, and appropriating funds for county operations. The county plays a significant role in the provision of healthcare services and the criminal justice system for people in the Chicagoland area. Additionally, the Cook County Board President serves as president of the Cook County Forest Preserve District. Only one candidate, Toni Preckwinkle, will appear on the ballot.

Toni Preckwinkle (Democrat, Incumbent) has served as Cook County Board President since 2010. Over her time in office, she has aimed to secure jobs and housing for all Cook County residents by investing in low-income communities. Additionally, she has taken steps to strengthen the County’s finances through a combination of tax increases and layoffs, though these measures have sometimes created considerable opposition (e.g. the “Soda Tax”). Preckwinkle recently took the office of Cook County Democratic Party Chair and is running for mayor of Chicago next year. Preckwinkle says she will prioritize reducing the use of cash bail in Cook County courts, reducing the jail population.

-Alex Shura

The Cook County Assessor supervises the property assessments, aiming to price property in a fair and accurate manner. These property assessments are then used to calculate taxation. Each year, the assessor reassesses a third of the city.

Frederick “Fritz” Kaegi (Democrat) is running on a platform of reform via technological innovation and increased transparency. He made headlines when he beat incumbent Assessor Joe Berrios after The Chicago Tribune published a series of investigative articles that found Berrios’s assessment system transferred wealth from low-income south and west-side homeowners to higher-income north-side homeowners. To resolve this issue, Kaegi plans to make public the method by which the assessor’s office calculates property values and has made his campaign contributions openly accessible. This approach will, according to Kaegi, cut down on corruption and fight long-standing equity issues within the assessor’s office.

Joseph Paglia (Republican) has declined opportunities to speak with media outlets. All we can say is that he has been called “token opposition.”

-Alex Shura

The Minimum Wage measure asks the voters of Cook County whether or not they agree to the gradual minimum wage increase currently in place countywide, which would entitle all employees eighteen years old and older to a $13 minimum wage by July 1, 2020. Though many municipalities opted out of adopting the minimum, the Cook County Board has brought this measure to a vote after the counties of Wilmette and Western Springs sought to opt back in. The $13 would be tied to the rate of inflation after, meaning that the dollar equivalent of $13 in 2020 would become the set wage for countywide employees in subsequent years.

Criticisms of the policy include whether or not the Cook County Board has the jurisdiction to impose the law—an official inquiry made by 17th District Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office indicated that the Board could not do so. Critics have also alleged that a minimum wage hike will lead to competitive disadvantages for businesses in non-participating municipalities, such as DuPage County. In general, critics allege that higher minimum wages will decrease the competitiveness of small businesses over time, while proponents assert that providing workers with more disposable income will have a positive effect on local economies.

-Richard Omoniyi-Shoyoola

As an advisory referendum, the outcome of this ballot measure does not guarantee that a straw ban will or will not be legislated. Rather, a “yes” vote supports advising the city to ban plastic straws whereas a “no” vote does not support advising the city to ban plastic straws.

Plastic straw bans have been passed in other cities, including Malibu and Seattle, but if a straw ban were legislated, Chicago would be the first city in Illinois to do so. Some Chicago businesses have already started phasing out plastic straws, like Lettuce Entertain You and Starbucks.

Banning plastic straws is often seen as the first step to reducing single-use plastics and plastic pollution—particularly marine pollution, which could be of interest here due to Chicago’s proximity to the Great Lakes. Plastic alternatives, such as paper, are typically more biodegradable and meant to pose a lower risk to animals.

Critics include disability advocates, who believe that a blanket straw ban would reduce accessibility due to current plastic straw alternatives not sufficiently addressing safety, hygiene, or usability concerns. Concerns have also been raised about the environmental benefits of straw bans, such as with Starbucks effectively replacing plastic straws with thicker plastic lids.

-Miranda Zhang

A vote in favor of this referendum would advise the state to strengthen penalties for illegal trafficking of firearms and require all gun dealers to be certified by the state. The referendum was put forth by Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who hopes an affirmative vote will sway Governor Rauner to approve legislature tightening restrictions on gun ownership.

“My belief is the vast majority of people in Cook County will say ‘when that bill does get to your desk, don’t veto it. Sign it for our protection,” Suffredin told the Tribune. Rauner vetoed a bill that would have mandated firearms dealers to undergo training on how to perform thorough background checks in March.

Supporters agree that a crack-down on firearm trafficking across state lines is a necessary tactic for addressing gun violence—nearly 60 percent of guns found in the city come from outside of the state, and nearly 20 percent can be sourced back to Indiana alone. Defenders of the second amendment in rural areas of the state have responded by placing referenda asking voters if they want their municipalities to become “sanctuary cities” for gun owners.

-Alia Shahzad

The Earned Sick Time for Workers measure advises Cook counties’ municipalities to mandate that employers provide employees with paid sick leave. The non-binding measure was put forward by the Cook County Board of Commissioners, after 109 of the 125 affected municipalities in Cook County opted out of requirements for a paid sick leave measure passed in 2017. To be eligible for this provision, employees must work within the city for two hours out of every two weeks, be employed at their job for six months, and work for at least eighty hours during any 120-day period. Under the measure, employers are required to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every forty hours that employees work, and must provide a maximum of forty paid sick leave hours per year. In the case of unused hours during the year, employees are granted a carry over of half of their unused hours, at a maximum of twenty hours total carried over to the following year.

Proponents say employees would get more time off to recover or help a loved one recover from illness, injury, domestic abuse, and other public health emergencies, as well as entitle them to sick-leave payment. Criticisms of the law include employer complaints of overly complicated procedures to track unused sick leave that carries into a new year, discrepancies in time off owed to employees that work for the same company in different parts of the state, and restrictive obligations about the amount of prior notice employees are required to provide their employers in advance of a sick day.

-Richard Omoniyi-Shoyoola

An affirmative vote advises the city to give families who have lived in their home for over a decade and with an annual income less than $100,000 a property tax exemption. A negative vote advises against the creation of this exemption.

Every year, Illinois homeowners pay 2 percent of the value of their homes property taxes, nearly double the national average. The non-partisan Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) points to the tax as one of the biggest reasons why Illinois lost the largest share of its population of any Midwestern state over the last eight years, and found that the tax particularly affects middle-income residents (those who earn between $44,000–$132,000 in Chicago). Proponents therefore argue that exemptions would encourage middle-income residents to stay put and alleviate the burden of a state tax disproportionately higher than the rest of the region’s.

Opponents to exemptions might argue that, since property taxes generate revenue for local government, exemptions gut the ability of local governmental institutions to execute their function. Creating an exemption might also disrupt the government’s ability to compensate its employees—IPI identifies teachers’ pensions as well as growth in government employee pensions and benefits as two of the largest causes of the property tax hike for the two decades leading up to 2016.

-Alia Shahzad

Before you prepare to break out the bong on the Midway, note that this measure is only advisory. Its passage would not bind legislators to legalizing or taxing recreational marijuana usage. An affirmative vote is in favor of advising the city, in the case that marijuana is legalized by the state, to tax the sale of marijuana for funding schools and mental health services.

How likely is legalization to occur? It’s hard to say. Small amounts of marijuana (less than ten grams) were decriminalized by the state Senate in 2016, and the same body voted to approve the usage of cannabinoids as an alternative to medically prescribed opioids last June. Members of the Senate plan to continue the momentum by pushing a bill that decriminalizes recreational usage of the THC-containing plant after Midterms conclude.

If marijuana were to be legalized, would taxing it be productive for the state’s budget? Perhaps. A recent Pew study found that sin taxes on products such as recreational marijuana “can be effective in the short term.” But the report also cautions using the revenue from taxation to fund states’ “ongoing budget commitments,” schools and mental health services included, and advises that states evaluate the sustainability of such taxes before enacting any legislation.

-Alia Shahzad

UCDI team members Isaiah Milbauer, Alex Shura, David Whyman, and Gianluca Yong contributed writing to this article. Subscribe to UCDI's newsletter to receive weekly updates on the actions, statements, and votes of Hyde Park's (the 5th ward's) representatives, from City Council to the U.S. Congress.

The image featured in this article is used under the Creative Commons 2.0 License. The original was taken by Erik Hersman and can be found here.

Sarah Wasik

Sarah Wasik is a fourth-year double majoring in Public Policy and Philosophy. She has spent her summers working campaigns and interning at both the state and federal levels of government. When she isn’t writing, reading, or learning more about policy and politics, she is probably running up and down the lakefront path or spending time with friends.

Richard Omoniyi-Shoyoola

Richard Omoniyi-Shoyoola is a rising fourth year in the University of Chicago studying Political Science. He has served as an Intern in the Office of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, as a Complaint Counselor for the ACLU of Missouri, and as an Investigations Intern for the Law Office of The Cook County Public Defender. All of these experiences have taught him that everybody deserves an advocate, and that being cynical is overrated.

Drew Hallowell

Miranda Zhang

UChicago Democracy Initiative (UCDI)

Alia Shahzad

Alia Shahzad is a second-year majoring in a currently undetermined social science. She's Co-Chair of the IOP's Women in Public Service Program and an assistant projectionist at Doc Films. Over the summer, she interned at public policy media start-up Apolitical researching gender-based public procurement. She enjoys hiking, writing creatively, and brunching in Chicago's Chinatown.


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