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Metro East: 5 Takeaways From The Illinois Primary Election

Illinois was one of three states that held primaries on March 17, 2020. Voter turnout was lower than usual, officials say.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Voters in Illinois went to the polls on Tuesday to decide whom they wanted to see on the ballot in November. A few cities and villages also put referendums to their voters. Congressional races in three Metro East districts were in play for the primary.

Here are five things to take away from the results.

Joe Biden won big

The Associated Press projected that the former vice president would win Illinois less than 30 minutes after the polls closed. When races are called that early, it’s a sign the contest is not close.

Biden won the vast majority of Democratic voters in the Metro East, capturing between 60% and 70% of the primary vote in St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, Washington and Clinton counties. 

Black voters have been historically strong in Belleville and St. Clair County, said John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. This is a group that is a core part of Biden’s base

Madison County voters have shifted more to the right, but there are still many Democrats in the area, he added.

“The white voters on that side have tended to be strong union people,” Jackson said, “the kind of blue-collar workers that supported the Democractic Party. Those voters are more likely to support Joe Biden this time.” 

Voter turnout was low

Concerns over the coronavirus kept many Illinoisans from turning out to the polls on Tuesday, said Matt Dietrich, public information officer for the State Board of Elections. 

“Turnout has been very, very low,” he said.

On average, about a third of Illinois voters take part in primary elections, but turnout might be half that this time, he said.

“Before coronavirus I would have said there’s no question that we’re going to be above average,” he said. “There was probably a decent chance that we would have matched what we saw in 2016, which was 47%. I don’t think there’s any way we’re going to see either of those.”

Results from St. Clair County showed less than 25% of registered voters cast a ballot in this primary. 

“I can tell from early voting the numbers are depressed from coronavirus,” St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook said. 

The November congressional contests are set

Three congressional races touch the Metro East in November: the 12th, 13th and 15th district races. The 12th and the 13th districts both have Republican incumbents, whereas the 15th is open after Rep. John Shimkus announced he was not going to run again.

In this district, the Republican primary basically decides who the next congressperson is. Shimkus won his district in 2018 with more than 70% of the vote. Mary Miller is the 2020 Republican primary winner.

The 13th is a rematch of the 2018 race in which Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan came within 2,000 votes of defeating incumbent Republican Rodney Davis.

In the 12th District, incumbent Republican Mike Bost will face either Raymond Lindsey or Jole Funk.

Highland and O’Fallon residents voted on marijuana referendums

Residents of Highland in Madison County voted decisively against allowing marijuana sales in their city. The vote is a nonbinding resolution, so the city doesn’t have to follow the will of the people. The referendum comes after the city council voted to allow sales of marijuana, and then residents voiced their dissent.

Voters in O’Fallon participated in a similar referendum. Voters there passed the referendum by 271 votes, indicating they want their city council to allow the sale of adult-use recreational cannabis in the city.

In both cases, the referendums are nonbinding; the city councils still have the last say over whether to allow marijuana sales in their communities.

Centerville and Alorton residents decide to merge

Residents in Alorton and Centerville decided to combine into a new city called Alcentra. Voters in both municipalities approved the change overwhelmingly. 

Both areas had faced population declines for years, and the merger promises lower taxes, new housing and growth. The new city will have an aldermanic form of government.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

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Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.