By Jack McArdle, Mike Haber, and Larry Roskin
What Is It? Why Is It? How Does It Work?
The Caucus System in Riverwoods is a state-authorized and regulated candidate selection process designed to seek out, select and support individuals who will agree to run for and, if elected, serve in positions on the village government.
Why is It?
Trustees have traditionally been volunteer (no pay) positions. The Mayor is paid a reasonable salary while the Village Clerk is paid a stipend to offset the extensive number of hours the position requires.
Because of the time involved in these public service positions and because conflict resolution is often a large part of these jobs, experience shows that we don’t have a large number of people clamoring to offer their free time. As a result, the typical two party or multiple party political system tends not to be viable here. Therefore, the Caucus System was instituted for small communities to seek out, encourage and allow qualified residents to run for village office.
Who Governs the Caucus System?
The Caucus System is governed under the election laws of the State of Illinois (Illinois revised statutes, Chapter 46, Sections 7-1 and 10-1), supervised by the Lake County Clerk.
At one time, the Caucus was a function of the Riverwoods Residents Association (RRA). However, the Internal Revenue Service determined that the not-for-profit status of the RRA could not be continued if the RRA was to be involved in political activities.
Before discussing how the Caucus works, here are some terms/concepts.
Caucus Advisory Council. The Council is made up of six residents who have served on a previous Caucus Nominating Committee, and who were elected by their peers on the Committee to serve overlapping six-year terms. The Advisory Council is the ongoing element within the Caucus System that provides continuity over time. It is charged with:
- Forming the Nominating Committee for every election year.
- Instructing the Nominating Committee on its assignment (number of candidates, what offices, terms, etc.).
- Explaining the procedures under which the Nominating Committee must function, and being available to provide advice.
- Retaining all records and Treasurers’ reports.
The Caucus Nominating Committee. A committee of Riverwoods residents appointed by the Advisory Council (per its bylaws) from the following groups of areas:
- One member from each of the 12 geographic areas as defined by the Riverwoods Caucus Party map.
- 3 members representing a combination of the key committees in the village;
- A retired or retiring member of the Village Board who is not standing for re-election.
- A member representing either the Plan Commission or Zoning Board of Appeals.
- A member representing the RRA (traditionally, but not necessarily, the most recently retired President of the RRA).
- Three “At-large” members, selected from individuals who petition to serve “at-large.” (If a sufficient number of “at-large” petitions are not submitted, the Caucus Advisory Council appoints individuals to serve).
The Caucus. (More properly called the Caucus Town Meeting). This is a term set out in state statutes to describe a specific date established by the State Election Committee (the 2nd Monday in January — though this date may be changed in future years) when the Caucus (Town Meeting) is held. By this date, the Caucus Nominating Committee must submit its candidates to the full membership of the Caucus Party. Under State Statute, any voting-age resident of Riverwoods can claim membership in the Caucus Party by merely signing an affidavit to that effect. All those who sign the required affidavit may vote or nominate at the Caucus (Town Meeting).
How Does the Caucus System Work?
- The Caucus Advisory Council forms the Caucus Nominating Committee and charges it with its tasks.
- The Nominating Committee:
- Publicizes its formation and candidate search.
- Recruits residents to offer their candidacy for village office.
- Prepares a series of “Issues and Position” questions to which each candidate is asked to respond.
- Interviews all prospective candidates on the issues and positions. (Note: All the above functions are conducted in open public meetings).
- Selects (via secret ballot, in a closed meeting) one candidate for each office that needs to be filled.
- Calls for, publishes and runs the Caucus (Town Meeting) to officially slate candidates.
- Finally, after candidates have been slated, it is the responsibility of the Nominating Committee to support the candidates they selected in either a contested or uncontested election.
Funding. The Caucus Advisory Council is responsible for assisting in the procurement of funds for all Caucus administrative expenses. Traditionally, the RRA has been asked to provide funds for use in each election year. (In most recent years, the Caucus asked for, and received, $1,000 from the RRA.) These funds are used for publicity, postage, citizen mailings and to provide refreshments, as needed, for interview meetings.
These funds may also be used for associated administrative expenses. Funds not spent are returned to the RRA.
If a conntested election arises, RRA funds may not be used to support a political campaign. In this unusual circumstance, the Nominating Committee and candidates must raise funds to pay for campaign expenses.
We hope you find this explanation helpful. By serving on the Caucus Nominating Committee, you have the unique opportunity for an education in local government!