Ping Pong and Politics

Imagine getting hired for a new job and having the terms of your tenure determined by…ping pong. Sounds like a pitch for a new reality TV show, doesn’t it? Instead, it’s how we found out how long we’d be serving on the DuPage County Board once we were elected.

Yes, you read that right: we only found out how long our terms were after we campaigned, won our elections, got inaugurated and took our oath of office. And that term length (two years or four years) is determined by the highly scientific method of pulling a ping pong ball out of a silly hat.

The reason I tell you any of this is because one of my goals is to get voters more engaged in local politics. I’m going to do my best to bring you with me behind the scenes, and make it so dang interesting and accessible that soon you’ll find yourself saying, “Congress? I don’t even know her.” That’s right, baby– local is where it’s at!

Or at least it’s where I’m at — this is my second term serving on the DuPage County Board, and I love the work that we do here for our neighbors. It’s important, but often hidden or overlooked, simply because everyone is on Systems Overload due to everything else happening, all over, all the time. But that’s okay! I’ve got you, and I’ll make it easy to follow, I promise.

And now back to ping pong: every ten years, like a political Hailey’s Comet, the DuPage County Board resets and all 18 seats on the Board, plus Chairman, are up for re-election at the same time. Then, the subsequent terms are staggered and the next decade of election cycles are varied, in order to provide a continuity of elected members on the Board at all times.

I was curious about this tradition, so I went back and watched old meetings (nerd alert), and asked our staff approximately one million questions, wondering if I had missed a discussion about the legal or statutory regulations of deciding term lengths. Turns out, there aren’t any. It’s just an arbitrary process someone thought of at least a decade, maybe longer, ago.

It’s a problematic approach in that it doesn’t always correlate to what the voters expressed. For instance, it’s entirely possible for someone who won in a landslide to pull a two-year term, and for someone who only won by a handful of votes to pull a four-year term.

I think the process should mirror what the voters say, with the top vote-getter in each district given first dibs on which term length they prefer, followed by second-highest and so on. This isn’t only to “reward” vote totals, it’s to give elected officials agency over their terms based on how they choose to serve.

For example, if someone has plans to retire in two years to New Zealand and start their own alpaca farm, they should be able to choose the shorter term. (And let’s be honest, who in Chicagoland doesn’t get the urge to move to New Zealand in February? No judgement here.) Why would we want public servants potentially holding office for longer than they want? That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

I pulled a ping pong ball which designated a 2-4-4 schedule, which means I am up for re-election again in 2024—so hold onto my yard signs, SportsFans, we’re gonna need ‘em again in a couple of years! I am absolutely copacetic with my two-year term because at this point, I’m used to the two-year election cycle and am confident in my re-election prospects.

However, I am not a fan of governmental processes that are arbitrary for no discernible reason. Public service is too important to leave it up to ping pong balls pulled out of a hat. My suggestion for when this comes before the Board again in 2032 (a date that sounds so futuristic I’m gonna be hella pissed if we don’t have a national high-speed rail system and flying cars by then), is to use vote totals to determine term lengths. This would put the will of the voters front and center in this process. It’s a simple and logical fix, and one I recommend.

What do you think? Is there a better way? I’d love to hear your thoughts and I welcome your comments.

We have our full County Board meetings every two weeks, and our committee meetings during those off weeks. Our next full County Board meeting will be held on February 14 at 10AM. Come join us in person, watch it on YouTube, or simply tune in here for more highlights and updates!

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This post was written by Help Lynn Win

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