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Local Column

Olson: NIU-area precincts vote dark blue

Eric Olson
Eric Olson

A few takeaways from the recent election after having a little time to spend with the precinct vote counts:

Illinois’ moves to increase voter participation have awakened a sleeping giant.

DeKalb is Democratic territory in general – Democrats win across the board pretty much everywhere here. But three precincts near Northern Illinois University – DeKalb 2, 4 and 5 – are overwhelmingly filled with Democratic voters.

In contests for governor, Congress, state representative and county clerk, the Democratic candidates garnered anywhere from 80 percent to 89 percent of the vote. There is no other precinct in the county where the margin is so lopsided. (Republican County Treasurer Christine Johnson garnered 80 percent of the 432 votes cast in strongly Republican Shabbona Township, her home turf.)

In 2015, Illinois created a pilot program to allow same-day voter registration official, and the turnout in these precincts has increased exponentially. There were 3,383 votes cast there in the 2016 presidential election. The midterm vote was down a little from that total, coming in at a combined 2,410 votes, but Democratic candidates won by even wider margins than they did in 2016.

The votes cast in DeKalb’s dark blue districts weren’t enough to swing any elections – this year. But if I were running the Democratic Party in this county, I’d be trying to recruit good candidates for 2020 and come up with a strategy to turn out even more of my voters around NIU.

A lot of people are going to want to vote against Trump. Get about 5,000 of them to the polls in DeKalb, and it could be enough to flip a close race.

The Republican base in the county still is strong. That much should be obvious from the fact that Republicans continue to hold all countywide offices.

DeKalb may be a Democratic stronghold, but Sycamore and Cortland townships mostly favored Republican candidates by a few points or more.

The rural townships are solidly Republican – Shabbona and Milan townships are among the county’s reddest. The outlier is Afton Township, south of DeKalb.

If Democrats want to get one of their own elected to countywide office, it probably would make more sense to find a candidate who’s already known in parts of the county other than DeKalb.

But that’s easier said than done.

Lauren Underwood was a special candidate. She convinced a lot of voters to split their tickets and vote for her.

She carried 14 of the 19 precincts in Sycamore and Cortland townships, while Democratic state representative candidate Paul Stoddard carried six, and county clerk candidate Carolyn Morris and Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker carried five each.

That’s what a candidate has to do to win a district that’s drawn to be friendly to the opposing party.

The demographics of the district are not going to change, however. Underwood certainly will face a challenge in 2020, and re-election will be a battle for her.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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