Down Ballot: How a Local Campaign Became a National Referendum on Abortion

3 Fields. Jan. 2024. 200p. ISBN 9780252087585. pap. $21.95. POL SCI
Former campaign staffer Wohl uses a 1990 Republican primary for a spot in the Illinois state house to illustrate that, although the races for city or state officials—those listed further down on a ballot—might garner less attention than national elections, they often have more far-reaching effects on people’s lives. In engaging prose, he shares details of the nail-biter fight for the Illinois Republican party’s nomination: archconservative, anti-abortion Penny Pullen (the incumbent since 1977 and an ally of Phyllis Schlafly in her battle against the Equal Rights Amendment) vs. pro-choice Rosemary Mulligan, who was more progressive. The election came down to a 31-vote margin, leading to a recount and a decision in the Illinois Supreme Court. Pullen finally won by a hair, but two years later was defeated by Mulligan, who went on to serve for two decades. This election was the first in which “dimpled chads” (on paper ballots that voters punch with a stylus to indicate their preference) were a problem—an issue that came up again in the 2000 U.S. presidential race. Wohl says it’s also an early instance of the country’s impassioned culture war and the fight about abortion.
VERDICT Will likely be a popular selection as the 2024 election draws near. It will also be of interest to those teaching civics and journalism.
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