Board of Election Commissioners – Hold Municipal Elections on Same Day as Statewide Elections*

Savings: $3 million

Currently, city elections are held in February in the year after the election of Illinois’s governor.  Runoff elections are held in April after the February elections in races where no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote.

Under this option, the City would move its elections to coincide with the state and federal election cycle, in the years in which there is either an election for Illinois governor or for U.S. president.  To do this while maintaining a runoff system, the City would move to instant-runoff voting (IRV).[1]

IRV “is a system of voting that allows voters to rank their preference for an office among multiple candidates.”[2]  The first ballot count only takes into account people’s first preference.  If one candidate obtains a majority of the first preference, then the election is over.  However, if no candidate obtains a majority, then the candidate with the smallest vote percentage is eliminated.  Then, the second choices of each of the voters who chose the eliminated candidate are counted and added to the remaining candidates’ totals.  Again, if a majority is obtained for any candidate, then the election is over.  If not, these steps are repeated until a majority exists.[3]  IRV is currently used in San Francisco and Oakland, California.[4]  Internationally, it is used to elect the mayor of London, president of Ireland, and the national legislature of Australia.[5]

In 2009, the last year in which there was no election, the Board of Election Commissioners budget was $10.5 million.[6]  This year, because municipal elections took place, its budget was $19.2 million.  The vast majority of this $8.7 million difference is likely a result of having to hold municipal elections in 2011.   If elections were moved to coincide with the state and federal election cycle, there would likely be some increase in election costs in the year to which municipal elections are moved.  Let’s assume that $5 million of the $8.7 million would be net savings.  This savings would be spread over each four year election cycle.

Additionally, in 2011, $7.5 million was budgeted for special and run-off elections.  The vast majority of this spending is on run-off elections.  If a consolidation of the state and local election cycles were combined with a move to instant-runoff voting (IRV), most of these funds would likely be saved as stand-alone run-off elections would no longer be necessary.    Assume that $7 million would be saved in each four-year election cycle.

Combining the $7 million in estimated savings from no longer needing run-off elections and the $5 million net savings from moving the municipal elections to the state and federal election cycle yields a total of $12 million in savings in each four-year election cycle.  This translates to the $3 million annually.

Implementing this option would require extensive amendments to the Illinois Election Code, 10 ILCS 5/1-1 et seq., and the “consolidated schedule of elections,” for all state and local elections as established in 1980.  The Illinois Election Code, 10 ILCS 5/2A-25, further specifies the time of election for Chicago’s Mayor, Clerk, and Treasurer, providing that each “shall be elected at the consolidated election in 1979 and at the consolidated election every 4 years thereafter.”  Section 5/2A-26 provides that aldermen “shall be elected at the consolidated primary election in 1979 and at the consolidated primary election every 4 years thereafter.  The runoff election where necessary, pursuant to law, for Chicago aldermen shall be held at the consolidated election in 1979, and every 4 years thereafter.”

Proponents might argue that holding municipal elections at the same time as statewide elections would attract higher turnout for municipal races.  The table below shows the voter turnout in Chicago over the last several election cycles and demonstrates that fewer Chicago voters have voted in recent municipal elections than in recent statewide contests.  Finally, others might argue that harmonizing the election calendar will reduce the ability of elected officials to run for other political offices without abandoning their existing positions.


Voter Turnout

2004 General Election (President)


2006 General Election (Governor)


2007 Municipal Election


2008 General Election (President)


2010 General Election (Governor)


2011 Municipal Election


Source: Chicago Board of Election Commissioners
Opponents might argue that combining municipal elections with statewide elections would lessen the focus in both municipal and statewide races as more races would compete for voters’ attention.  Others might argue that the staggering of elections under the current schedule promotes the prospect of advancement of more experienced and qualified candidates who might be discouraged from seeking higher office if it comes at the risk of losing their present elected posts.

Budget Details

Dept: Board of Election Commissioners, 039 and Finance General, 099 Bureau: NA
Fund: Corporate, 0100 Approp Code: Various
The appropriation is located on page 104 and 254 of the 2011 Annual Appropriation Ordinance.






[2] Minnesota House of Representatives. Research Department. “Information Brief: Instant-Runoff Voting”. February 2007. pg. 1

[3] Id., pg. 4

[4] Id., pg. 6

[5] Id., pg. 6

[6] City of Chicago. “2009 Annual Appropriation Ordinance”. pg. XI.