President-elect Barack Obama may be Illinois’ new favorite son, but his coattails didn’t extend to Sangamon County races. All but one Democratic contender for a county office lost to Republican incumbents, and preliminary data suggests that turnout among local Dems wasn’t as high as party leaders had expected.
Among the 15 precincts that have the highest percentage of registered voters who have chosen Democratic ballots in primary elections, the combined turnout was 55.8 percent this year, just three-tenths of a percentage point higher than in 2004, and well below the county average of 72.6 percent. Among precincts with heavy concentrations of Republican voters, the combined turnout was 81.5 percent, according to a statistical analysis by Josh Witkowski, who managed the campaign of coroner candidate Aby Phoenix. “I believe that low percentage turnout in Democratic precincts combined with a lack of name recognition led to the demise of three of the four county-wide candidates,” Witkowski says.
The one Democrat elected to county-wide office was Josh Langfelder, who beat Republican contender Don Gray by nearly 10 percent to win the post of Sangamon County Recorder. Langfelder had several advantages: The blessing of retiring recorder Mary Ann Lamm (also a Democrat), and family name associated with his father, former Springfield mayor Ossie Langfelder.
Former County board member Pat Davis, who handles the Dems’ get-out-the-vote efforts, says the low turnout surprised party leaders, especially in a group of precincts that encompass the county committee’s minority caucus.
“We all expected a markedly higher turnout on the east side,” he says. He speculates that the higher turnout failed to materialize for two reasons: First, the common knowledge that Obama would easily win Illinois, thereby giving voters an excuse to stay home; and second, the out-of-date status of those same precincts’ voter files, still carrying the names of people who have moved away and are likely voting in their new precincts.
“After the  mayor’s race, I had a bunch of volunteers come say, ‘You sent me to homes that weren’t even there.’ So I think we need to do a door-to-door survey to see who still lives here,” Davis says.
It’s the job of the precinct committeeman to send county election officials an affidavit reporting who has moved away, but the motive to keep close tabs on party faithful vanished when patronage was outlawed, Davis says. “Those days are gone,” Davis says. “They’re gone for the Democratic side.”