These three referenda will go down in flames

These three referenda will go down in flames

Let men be wise by instinct if they can, but when this fails, be wise by good advice. — Sophocles

One of the more fascinating and easily predictable of the post-COVID symptoms is a persistent reticence to heed good advice, particularly on the part of our elected and public officials. It’s that to be expected pendulum swinging back response to being bombarded with terrible advice from the “experts” we’ve been taught to trust the most.

But as is always the case with these Skinner-esque conditioned equal and opposite reactions, they only make things worse, eventually leading to another full pendulum swing to the other side of the bell curve, and so forth and so on. After 9/11 the police could do no wrong, but after George Floyd they could do no right.

It’s this hesitancy to consider reasonable counsel that’s doomed two Kane County school and one library boards’ 2023 ballot initiatives to certain failure. And once a referendum is defeated, it becomes exponentially more difficult to pass it the next time. Suffer two straight losses and it becomes almost impossible to get a yes vote.

That’s why ballot timing is so critically important when public enterprises ask the voters for money – in bonds or any other form. So, without further ado, here are the Illinois election cycle referenda rules:

  • Even-year presidential election —  Dems and liberals vote in the greatest numbers
  • Even-year non-presidential —        Dems and liberals vote in reasonable numbers
  • Odd-year mayoral election —         GOP and conservatives vote far more often
  • Odd-year non-mayoral  —              GOP and conservatives dominate the vote

So, if you want to fund your newest school district project, putting a referendum on the ballot in 2024 would be your best bet. 2022 wasn’t a bad choice, but 2023? Unless you have a very active and savvy pro-school/library grass roots group that’s willing to work with a good campaign manager, your referendum will be trounced at the hands of those odd-year conservative voters who will inevitably turn you down.

It’s also important to note that even-year elections, by their “noisy” nature, tend to mute those small, but overly vocal opposition groups who consistently come out against anything perceived to be higher taxes. Conversely, the more sedate odd-year races amplify those voices because local newspapers love to create and cover controversy.

In the end, it all comes down to a basic math derived from an understanding of which voters make it to the polls in any given election cycle. With those lessons in mind, let’s examine our three referenda.

Since their new facility’s construction bonds are almost paid off, the Sugar Grove library board wants to apply those tax dollars to ongoing library operations. Aside from the horrific timing – an odd-year non mayoral election – at least nine separate similar ballot measures to fund the library have failed over the last two decades. So, what makes that board think the tenth time’s the charm?

The only way that measure could possibly pass is if a highly motivated pro-library citizens group with a very effective message applied a well-targeted voter list towards an all-out door-knocking and doorhanger blitz. But that’s clearly not happening. They’re using social media because it’s cheaper than having to print campaign material. The problem with that strategy is Facebook is one of the worst ways to reach odd-year voters as indicated by a scant 8 residents showing up to a February 4 library informational meeting.

The average Kane County consolidated election voter is a 62 to 63-year-old white woman, and as this 2022 social media demographics website notes. they don’t use social media. More specifically, just 51 percent of the 50-65 age group and a mere 34 percent of those 65 and older are on Facebook. Now, add just 22.6 percent of Sugar Grove voters showing up at the polls in 2021 and Facebook media posts targeting odd-year voters have about as much effect as throwing an entire pot of spaghetti against the wall in the hope that one or two strands will stick.

The board’s message – “This is NOT a tax increase” – isn’t terrible, but it isn’t going to make anyone run to the polls to vote “yes.” It also opens the door to the opposition argument that “It isn’t a tax cut, either.” The far better option would’ve been “Strong libraries build strong communities.” Positively framed slogans are far more effective than the negative variety.

It’s also much more difficult to argue with that one.

I offered my campaign expertise to the SG library board, but despite the nominal fee involved, they turned me down. Regardless, my fondest wish is for this measure to pass, but the board will soon discover that, per my favorite TV judge, “Lo barato sale caro,” or “the cheap comes out expensive.” When their ballot question is defeated by five, and more likely, 10 points, their brand-new library will have to continue to limp along on inadequate funding for the foreseeable future.

The bottom Sugar Grove line is everything about this referendum is wrong. The timing couldn’t be worse, the previous voter rejections have become an almost insurmountable obstacle, the messaging could have been much better, and the board isn’t doing an effective job of targeting and reaching the most likely 2023 voters.

On Thursday we’ll continue this lesson with U-46’s futile bond referendum and why the Batavia school district’s similar ballot question will go down to a second consecutive defeat. What does two straight losses mean, class? That’s right! The third time is never the charm.

3 thoughts on “These three referenda will go down in flames

  1. Amazon has shut down most of the book stores, and now Amazon and the internet are reducing the need for libraries. It seems foolish to spend money to expand any library.

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