A return to tradition: Why Illinois’ primary election is moving back to March in 2024

2022 primary was moved due to delayed Census data

Voting in the Consolidated Election on Tuesday, April 4, 2023 at the Campton Hills Township Community Center.

If you’re a longtime voter in Illinois, recent primary-election scheduling may make you feel like a yo-yo – and that state lawmakers are holding the string.

Illinois primaries traditionally are held in March. But the General Assembly delayed the 2022 primary until June to give officials more time to incorporate 2020 census data into mandatory redistricting plans.

That data reportedly was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The provision shifting the primary to June expired this year, however – so the 2024 primary will be March 19.

Monday is the last day for major-party candidates to file the nominating petitions needed to appear on the primary ballot.

State Rep. Maurice West, a Rockford Democrat, sponsored the 2021 legislation that set the date for the 2022 primary. At the time, he said the state’s traditional, seven-month gap between primary and general elections was “long and risky, negatively affecting public policymaking.”

West deliberately proposed a one-time change “just to see how it works.”

If success is measured by voter turnout, the change was a failure.

Fewer than 1.8 million Illinoisans voted in the 2022 primary, only about 22% of the state’s registered voters, Illinois State Board of Elections data shows. It was the lowest total since 2014 and the first time total voters dipped below 2 million since the dismal showing in 2014.

In contrast, almost 2.3 million people voted in the 2020 Illinois primary, about 28% of the registered total; almost 3.6 million voted in the 2016 primary, about 47% of the registered total.

Illinois primary election turnout

Turnout for Illinois’ 2022 primary election was the state’s lowest since 2014

Election YearTurnout
20221.8 million (22% of registered voters)*
20202.3 million (28%)2018: 2.1 million (27%)
20163.6 million (47%)
20141.4 million (18%)
*Held in June. Others held in March.
Source: Illinois State Board of Elections

Former state Rep. Lauren Beth Gash, now the chair of the Lake County Democratic Party, noted there were several possible explanations for the poor turnout in 2022.

“I think people were busy with graduations, weddings, the school year ending and the like,” said Gash of Highland Park. “Folks are used to a March primary, and many people were confused last time because the primary wasn’t when they expected it, and they missed it.”

Fearing a low turnout, state Sen. Laura Murphy opposed moving the 2022 primary to June. Murphy said she’s “really pleased” the next one is back in March.

“Hopefully more [voters] will participate,” Murphy said.

Elections expert Kent Redfield expects Illinois’ future primaries will remain in or around March simply to maintain the status quo.

“Politicians hate uncertainty and risk,” said Redfield, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield. “Self-preservation usually trumps appeals for reform to promote participation or other good government objectives.”

The state’s history of patronage-based, party politics is a factor, too, Redfield said.

“The only people the party bosses wanted to show up on Election Day were party regulars motivated by loyalty and fear,” he said. “The more disinterest in the general public about the primary election, the better. ... Perfect primary Election Day weather for the party bosses was a snowstorm in Chicago and a cold, driving rain downstate.”

Niki Conforti, a Glen Ellyn Republican making her second bid for Illinois’ 6th Congressional District seat next year, supports keeping primaries in March.

Conforti first ran for the seat in 2022 and lost a six-way contest for the GOP nomination to Orland Park’s Keith Pekau, who eventually lost in the general election to incumbent Democrat Sean Casten of Downers Grove.

“[A March primary] can only help with voter turnout,” Conforti said.

Republican state Rep. Martin McLaughlin of Barrington Hills suspects the redistricting ahead of the 2022 election left many registered voters unsure of their elected state and federal representatives. That, in turn, reduced their interest in the races on the ballot, he said.

McLaughlin encourages people to confirm their state and federal representatives through a feature on the elections board website at