The 2022 midterm election is here.
The stakes for this election are high, as control of the highest offices in Springfield are on the ballot. In addition, Democrats are fighting to retain their majority in the U.S. House and Senate, with several Illinois incumbents up for reelection this year. And labor unions are making a push to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution — but need voters to ratify the proposed amendment.
Early voting is now over, though you can still cast your vote-by-mail ballot so long as it’s postmarked by today. Or, if you’ve filled it out but changed your mind about mailing it in, you can surrender your ballot and vote in-person on election day instead.
WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times put together a snapshot of the biggest races you’ll see on your ballot to get you caught up. So scroll down and inform yourself. You can find out which elected officials represent your home here. You can also check out a guide to the Cook County judges who are seeking election to the bench, put together by Injustice Watch. You can see more of who and what will be on your ballot too by going to the Chicago Sun-Times voter guide, and putting in your address. And, if you’re in Cook County, you can take a closer look at referenda you’ll be voting on locally.
Why is this important? Labor unions and the lawmakers that support them are looking for a way to make sure labor rights aren’t subject to the whims of politicians. Former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner was at odds with labor unions and the Democrat-led legislature that supported them his entire time in office and made it clear he favored a Right-to-Work environment. That means employees cannot be compelled to join a union as a condition of employment. Under this proposed amendment, future legislatures or governors could not pass anything that would diminish the rights granted to workers — including making Illinois a Right-to-Work state. But opponents say this law gives too much power to unions, limits lawmakers from curbing that power, and they say it could eventually mean more costs to taxpayers.
What else do I need to know? A “yes” vote indicates you support the measure. And, 60% of people voting on this question, or a simple majority of people voting in the election, need to vote yes for it to be ratified.
Who’s running? First-term Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker, of Chicago, and Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey, of Xenia. Libertarian Scott Schluter from Marion is also on the ballot.
Why is this important? Overseeing the state’s resurgent treasury through a possible recession, ramping down from the pandemic, addressing urban crime and presiding over newly energized debates on gun and abortion policy all figure to be on the next governor’s agenda.
Pritzker and Bailey’s previous experience and positions on most aspects of governing are starkly different, and both have painted each other as too extreme to lead the state. (See Pritzker’s answers to 19 key issue questions here; other campaigns did not respond.) Pritzker has had a more flush campaign to get his incumbency message out, and was endorsed by former president Barack Obama. Bailey — who was endorsed by former president Donald Trump — has been backed largely by mega-donor Richard Uihlein. A conservative-led PAC, which has also been funded by Uihlein, has focused on crime in an attempt to weaken Pritzker’s candidacy. There have also been fake newspapers hitting potential voters’ mailboxes and viral images online amplifying misinformation.
What else do I need to know? Democrats have won the governorship four out of the last five elections, dating back to 2002. That’s after a 26-year run where Republicans controlled the Executive Mansion between 1977 and 2003. With much of Downstate safely Republican and Chicago safely Democratic, the key to the Pritzker and Bailey election is who wins the collar counties. Of those counties, all but McHenry County voted for Pritzker in the 2018 governor’s race, with DuPage and Kane counties each voting Democratic for the first time in nearly a century of gubernatorial elections.
Who’s running? Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who was injured severely in combat in Iraq, is seeking a second term as the junior senator from Illinois. Republican lawyer Kathy Salvi of Mundelein won the GOP nomination in a seven-way primary. Libertarian Bill Redpath also is on the ballot.
Why is this important? Control of the Senate is at stake in the midterm elections. For the past two years, the U.S. Senate has been evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaking vote in favor of the Democrats. Polls suggest this is not one of the more competitive races across the country this year. Still, the Democrats are counting on Duckworth — who has a huge fundraising advantage over her underfunded Republican challenger — to hold onto her seat in a state that President Joe Biden won easily two years ago.
What else do I need to know? Salvi, whose campaign is largely self-funded, is predicting she will win largely because she says voters are worried about high inflation and because of Duckworth’s strong support for what she described as Biden’s “socialist” policies. The two candidates differ greatly on all the big issues, as a WBEZ/Chicago Sun-Times/WTTW forum emphasized. That includes abortion, with Duckworth favoring a federal pro-abortion rights law and Salvi describing herself as pro-life. Duckworth favors reinstating the federal assault weapons ban, but Salvi opposes any new restrictions on gun ownership.
Who’s running? Democrat Kwame Raoul is a former prosecutor, who served as a Democratic state senator for 14 years before becoming attorney general in 2019. Republican Tom DeVore is a lawyer who rose to prominence after suing the state over mask mandates in schools. Daniel Robin is a Libertarian from Schaumburg.
Why is this important? Legal experts say the attorney general is one of the most important positions in the state, especially as the national legal landscape rapidly changes with decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court. The conservative-leaning court has shown a preference for limiting the reach of the federal government and federal laws leaving potentially more space on the stage for state laws as applied by lawmakers and attorneys general. As the top legal officer in the state, the future attorney general could have a big influence on wide-ranging issues including abortion, LGBTQ rights and guns.
In addition, this January the state will end the use of cash bail as a result of the Pre-trial Safety Act. DeVore has said he thinks it steps on the fundamental powers of the judicial branch. Raoul said safety considerations, not money, should decide who stays behind bars, though he believes some pieces of the act can be tweaked.
What else do I need to know? The attorney general’s office is a party in the consent decree that covers the Chicago Police Department and is therefore responsible for reviewing reforms and enforcing the decree if it is violated. That means whoever is elected could play a key role in shaping the future of policing policies and practices in Chicago.
Who’s running? Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, Republican Dan Brady and Libertarian Jon Stewart. Giannoulias is a former state treasurer from Chicago who ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010, but narrowly lost to Republican Mark Kirk. Brady is a longtime state representative from Bloomington, who was also the McLean County coroner in the 1990s. Stewart is a former professional wrestler from Deerfield.
Why is this important? For the first time in almost a quarter century, Illinois will have a new secretary of state because Jesse White is retiring. White is arguably one of the most popular political figures in Illinois history, having won reelection six consecutive times, and by landslides in most of those elections. White was able to build up a personal franchise in the office during his tenure, and advocate for organ donations and against drunk driving. Both majority party candidates have ideas on how to utilize remote services to cut down on long wait times at the DMV. The Chicago Sun-Times notes the candidates differ more in past experience than they do in positions on improving the office.
What else do I need to know? The secretary of state is the second largest statewide office, overseeing 4,000 employees and 21 different departments. Before White held on to the position for so long, the secretary of state would use the office as a political stepping stone to higher-profile statewide offices since the office is very visible to voters. White has endorsed Giannoulias; former Secretary of State (and governor) Jim Edgar has endorsed Brady.
Who’s running? Democratic incumbent Susana Mendoza faces a challenge from Crystal Lake Republican Shannon Teresi, who is the auditor for McHenry County. Libertarian Deirdre McCloskey is also on the ballot.
Why is this important? The Illinois comptroller signs the checks on behalf of the state — whether it’s paychecks for employees or paying the state’s vendors. As such, the comptroller has been monitoring the state’s bill backlog of payments owed to its contractors, which has dwindled considerably in the past four years.
What else do I need to know? The comptroller was thrust into the limelight during Illinois’ historic budget stalemate that ended in 2017, in which the state had no complete budget while former Gov. Bruce Rauner clashed with Democratic legislators. In this campaign, Mendoza points to her experience turning around a department that when she entered was weighed down with skyrocketing debt and mountains of unpaid bills, saying she has helped ensure Illinois’ financial state is “under control.” Teresi paints a darker picture, the Chicago Sun-Times reports, saying the state continues to struggle and she would launch a check of the department’s finances if elected. McCloskey said she would push for more transparency in the department’s finances.
Who’s running? Democrat Michael Frerichs is seeking his third term as treasurer. He’s being challenged by State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, and Libertarian Preston Nelson from Benton.
Why is this important? The Illinois treasurer is in charge of making investments on behalf of state and local governments.
What else do I need to know? Demmer has made a name for himself at the Illinois statehouse for being part of the House Republican leadership team. In his campaign against Frerichs, he has accused the incumbent of supporting a tax on retirement income based on comments Frerichs made in 2020. At the time, Frerichs had to clarify that he opposed a retirement income tax, and he’s spent this campaign criticizing Demmer’s inconsistent comments regarding gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey. Frerichs told the Chicago Sun-Times his focus over the course of two terms has been returning unclaimed properties to Illinois residents, expanding retirement savings funds and overhauling the state’s Bright Start college savings program. Demmer says if elected, he would push to lower taxes.
Who’s running? Lake County Judge Elizabeth “Liz” Rochford, a Lake Forest Democrat, and former three-term Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, a Democrat-turned-Republican from Libertyville.
Why is this important? The 2nd District is one of two open Illinois Supreme Court seats that could shape which party controls the state’s high court for years to come. That could have far-reaching impact on major social issues, including abortion laws and gun rights. Democrats hold a narrow 4-3 majority on the court, and Republicans haven’t controlled the court since 1969. But for the GOP to win the majority, the party would need to win both this election and the 3rd District Supreme Court election.
What else do I need to know? The 2nd District comprises Kane, Lake and McHenry counties in the immediate Chicago area and DeKalb and Kendall counties farther west of the city. Curran, who’s never been a judge, called himself “pro-life” in an interview with WBEZ and circulated now-debunked claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election on Facebook. The Illinois State Bar Association rated Curran as “not recommended” and Rochford as “highly recommended.” Rochford is an associate judge in Lake County who said President Joe Biden is the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, but shied away from divulging much about her stance on abortion.
Who’s running? Democratic state Appellate Justice Mary Kay O’Brien, of Essex, and Republican state Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Burke, whose town of residence is redacted in state campaign records.
Why is this important? The court doesn’t garner the same attention as the governor or legislature in Illinois, but it’s the final arbiter in legal disputes that affect everyone — from school funding to gun laws to redistricting to abortion rights.
What else do I need to know? The 3rd District covers DuPage and Will counties in the Chicago area, along with Bureau, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee and LaSalle counties to the southwest of the city. O’Brien is a former state legislator who helped extend the criminal statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse as minors. She was ranked as “recommended” by the Illinois State Bar Association while Burke was rated “highly recommended.” Burke was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2020 to fill a vacancy. Both Burke and O’Brien were guarded in their comments to WBEZ about how they’d rule on issues of abortion and gun control.
Who’s running? U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove, is seeking election to a third term in Congress representing Chicago’s western suburbs. He faces a challenge from Republican Keith Pekau, who has been the mayor of Orland Park since 2017.
Why is this important? Illinois’ 6th Congressional District had been a Republican stronghold until the Democratic blue wave of 2018, when Casten defeated former Congressman Peter Roskam. Now, with new boundaries due to the decennial process that occurs after each census, Casten is looking to hold onto his seat against Pekau. Because of the new boundaries, Casten handily won the Democratic primary against fellow U.S. Rep. Marie Newman. Pekau defeated six GOP opponents in the June primary.
What else do I need to know?
Like many Republicans this election cycle, Pekau has made crime one of his top campaign issues. He’s also been critical of Casten over the country’s high inflation rates. As mayor, Pekau has opposed Gov. JB Pritzker’s COVID lockdowns, with the village suing unsuccessfully to roll back the public health measures. Casten, meanwhile, has said if “pro-life” Republicans like Pekau win, then Republicans in Congress will vote to implement a nationwide ban on abortion and gun control efforts will stall.
A biochemical engineer and clean energy entrepreneur before running for Congress, Casten has been a vocal supporter of legislation that would fight climate change. Casten also voted for the Inflation Reduction Act and for COVID-relief packages. He has not shied away from embracing Democratic Party leaders, even bringing in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to campaign for him in the district.
Casten’s family was hit with tragedy just weeks before the June primary, when his teenage daughter, Gwen, died. Casten’s family recently announced her cause of death to be a sudden cardiac arrhythmia.
Who’s running? Incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, is facing a challenge from Republican Catalina Lauf, a former Trump administration appointee from Woodstock, Ill.
Why is this important? GOP party leaders want to win this seat in part to help cushion the Republican Party’s chances of flipping control of the U.S. House from Democrats. If Republicans gain control of the U.S. House in 2023, they vow to push legislation aimed at restricting access to abortion, execute “rigorous oversight” over the executive branch, hold hearings on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and more.
What else do I need to know? A former Trump administration appointee who served under U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Lauf’s priorities include “enforcing law and order and securing the border” and getting “Critical Race Theory out” of school curriculums. But a section of her website that once described her as “a pro-life conservative” was removed after she won the GOP primary. Foster argues electing Democrats like him — who support abortion rights — is the best way to protect against the conservative U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions.
Who’s running? Scott Gryder, a three-term Kendall County Commissioner who also serves as the board’s chairman, is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, who was first elected in 2018.
Why is this important? The 14th District is also seen by some as one with the potential to swing red in 2022. The district voted Underwood into office in 2018 after years of Republican representation by former Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren. Underwood held onto her seat again in 2020, but only narrowly defeated GOP opponent Jim Oberweis, though Democrats in Springfield redrew the borders of the 14th District as part of the redistricting process that occurs after each census.
What else do I need to know? Underwood, a registered nurse who worked for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, touted to the Chicago Sun-Times her support of abortion rights and an assault weapon ban, in addition to voting for the pandemic relief package and the Inflation Reduction Act as reasons why she should be reelected. Gryder, however, has decried what he sees as reckless spending in Washington, D.C., under Democratic President Joe Biden. Gryder, who has served on a number of local boards, calls himself “pro-life” and said mass shootings could be addressed as a mental health crisis.
Toni Preckwinkle, incumbent Democratic Cook County Board President who doubles as the head of the influential Cook County Democratic Party, is running for a fourth term. She faces Bob Fioretti, a former Democrat and Chicago alderman who is running as a Republican, and Libertarian Thea Tsatsos. Fioretti — who ran against Preckwinkle as a Democrat four years ago and is now running as a Republican — blames Preckwinkle for rising crime in Cook County, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Preckwinkle says what separates her from her repeat challenger is that she’s actually done the job, pointing to her extensive experience leading the county.
Other veteran Democratic leaders also face challenges. Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, who oversees elections, faces Republican Tony Peraica. A familiar face in Cook County politics, Peraica is a former county board commissioner who ran for county board president in 2006, but lost to Todd Stroger — and encouraged supporters to storm the county building in protest. Joseph Schreiner is the Libertarian candidate.
Longtime Democrats Sheriff Tom Dart and Treasurer Maria Pappas, who has been in her post since 1998, are both seeking another term. Dart faces Republican Lupe Aguirre and Libertarian Brad Sandefur. Pappas is up against Republican Peter Kopsaftis and Libertarian Michael Murphy. First-term Democratic Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi faces Libertarian Nico Tsatsoulis.
But perhaps the bigger story to watch may be what happens to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Of the 17 board members, Sean Morrison is the only incumbent Republican running to keep his seat. He’s also head of the county GOP. With four purple districts, including Morrison’s, Preckwinkle is working to flip the board entirely blue. She could be aided by a remap that changed commissioners’ district boundaries, in an effort to strengthen the Democratic foothold of the few swing districts.
Meanwhile, the Cook County Forest Preserve District is pitching a property tax hike. A referendum on the ballot will ask voters if they would pay on average about $1.50 more in property taxes per month to help support and grow the vast forest preserves, or around $20 more a year. Currently, homeowners contribute about $3 to $4 a month in property taxes to the forest preserves. Officials say the money would help meet some ambitious goals, including acquiring nearly 3,000 additional acres to protect it from development, restoring some 20,000 more acres over the next 20 years, and paying for workers’ pensions.
WBEZ’s Tony Arnold, Alex Degman, Shannon Heffernan, Mawa Iqbal, Dave McKinney, Dan Mihalopoulos, Kristen Schorsch and Mariah Woelfel contributed to this report, as did Andy Grimm from the Chicago Sun-Times. Charmaine Runes and Andjela Padejski produced this voter guide for wbez.org.