By Jessie Malloy
Have you ever read the news and felt like nothing is getting done in Washington? It often feels that no matter which party is in control, even the simplest of governmental functions are drawn out, resulting in the same fights and little action. While this can often be blamed on partisan gridlock, it doesn't help that the actual membership of the U.S. House rarely ever changes by more than ten percent. Incumbents are overwhelmingly likely to get reelected in the House of Representatives, so much so that many never face serious challengers, and, as a result, ideas and progress can stagnate.
In the Blue Wave of 2018, young, progressive challengers to long-seated incumbents proved that with a high voter turnout, even long-term seatholders are susceptible to removal. Victories by candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York have paved the way for a new wave of young candidates to bring progressive values and fresh ideas to Capitol Hill. Robert Emmons is making a move in Illinois' 1st Congressional District by challenging incumbent congressman Bobby Rush. Rush has represented the district since 1993 and, while he has rarely faced a serious primary challenger, he has won the district's general elections by wide margins each year. Emmons has been endorsed by numerous progressive leaders including Senator Bernie Sanders, and is ready to take the fight for IL-01 to the left.
In a district so heavily dominated by democratic support, any challenger who can unseat Rush in a primary would have a comfortable path to victory in November, but it will take significant support to make that first step on March 17, 2020. In order to achieve that support and advance progressive values to the floor of congress, we will need to increase voter turnout dramatically. If you aren't registered to vote or are unsure how and where you can vote, here are five ways you can register, vote, and get involved to increase voter turnout.
1. Register to Vote
First things first: you can't vote if you aren't registered. In Illinois, citizens over the age of 18 (or 17 if you will be 18 by the date of the next election) can register to vote online, by mail or in person at most government offices up to 27 days before an election. Not sure if you're registered or not? You can check your registration status, register online, or change your registration address in one place by visiting usa.gov.
2. Make a Voting Plan
In Illinois we're lucky enough to have wide access to polling places. If you know you'll be working or out of town on Election Day, or you just have free time and want to get it out of the way, early voting is available in all Illinois townships for two weeks prior to the election. Specific early voting hours vary by location, but all early voting locations and hours will be posted on your county website by January. You do not need to provide a reason to vote early! Just come in and cast your ballot like you would on Election Day.
3. Find Your Polling Place
Once you're registered to vote, it's important you know where to go when Election Day comes around. The easiest way to find your polling place is to enter your address on the state board of elections website.
4. Help Boost Turnout
Coming out to vote yourself is great, but real electoral strength is in numbers! There are dozens of ways you can help mobilize other progressive voters in your area. Rock the Vote will provide a toolkit to anyone interested in hosting their own voter registration event, or you can volunteer for a specific candidate to inform and excite the local community. Friends to Elect Robert Emmons Jr. is currently seeking volunteers willing to make any time commitment to help us spread our message before the March primary.
5. Spread the Word
If you don't have the time to come out and volunteer or host a registration event, you can still share your excitement for democracy with those closest to you. Most social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram have partnerships with online voter registration sites like TurboVote so you can share that you've registered to vote with your friends, and provide them with the link to do the same. When it comes to making change and turning out the vote, even the smallest action can make a big difference, and in the 2020 elections, every vote will count!