At the main campaign office of the Will County Democrats in Joliet, a small army of volunteers has been working the phones for the Nov. 6 election.
Armed with sophisticated voter calling technology, headsets and plastic cups full of cheddar cheese popcorn, the volunteers on this evening were talking to residents who had requested mail-in ballots to see where they stood on the issues.
There was one striking similarity among the vast majority of volunteers on one recent weeknight: They almost all were women.
Nicki Serbin, the assistant volunteer coordinator with the Will County Democrats, said she feels this election season is an exciting time to be involved with politics.
“It’s really exciting to see the enthusiasm,” Serbin said. “It’s sometimes rooted in frustration and sometimes rooted in inspiration, but that’s all right. We’ll take it all.”
Serbin said she’s seen proof of that enthusiasm in a new swell of female volunteers of all ages coming through their doors. Since 2016, Serbin said she’s seen so many more women galvanized to be involved politically like they never had been before.
Volunteers such as Joyce Probus, 75, of Lockport and Ruby Lofton, 70, of Bolingbrook both have been involved in politics for several years, but the past two years have been different.
“It’s the saddest thing of my life,” Probus said. “We cried for two weeks after the 2016 [election], and we’re still crying a lot.”
Lofton agreed, saying today’s politics remind her somewhat of what it was like as a young African-American girl growing up in Mississippi 60 years ago.
“It’s been the worst I’ve ever seen,” she said.
“I absolutely agree with you,” Probus added. “It is not a pretty picture out there.”
The volunteers also said they especially were excited because of the Democratic candidates on the ballot this year, particularly with a larger number of women. Women also pop up on Republican tickets.
Looking back at the past couple of election cycles, the numbers tend to show at least a slight increase in the overall number of female candidates on the ballot for legislative bodies at the state and county level.
About 45.4 percent of candidates on the ballot for the state General Assembly are women this year. That’s up from both 2016 (42.8 percent) and 2014 (41.4 percent), which was the last year Illinois voted for governor.
At the County Board level in 2018,
48 percent of candidates on the ballot are women. That also is up from 2016 (32.3 percent) and 2014 (41.6 percent).
While many of the female candidates running this year are incumbents or have run for public office before, a few Democrats are first-time candidates.
There is Amanda Koch – pronounced “cook” – a 34-year-old Army Reserves veteran who did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and is a former teacher. She is running for a County Board seat in District 2 against Frankfort Trustee Keith Ogle and incumbent Jim Moustis, who also is the sitting board speaker.
Plainfield resident Mica Freeman, a former fifth-grade teacher and mother of three, is challenging Republican incumbent state Rep. Mark Batinick in the 97th District. Freeman said she decided to run because of Batinick’s vote against a bill that would outlaw insurance policy exclusions of those with a pre-existing condition, such as her daughter.
“It’s great. It’s an opportunity for people to see that you don’t need a doctorate to participate and be a candidate,” Serbin said.