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Approval of Prop D to bring major changes in city elections

CITY HALL – The races for mayor and aldermen in the spring 2021 election promise to be different from any other in the history of St. Louis.

The approval of Proposition D in the Nov. 3 election eliminates partisan races for mayor, president of the Board of Aldermen, comptroller and aldermen in the March primary and April general election. With “approval voting” in the first of two rounds, residents may vote for as many candidates as they want. The top two vote-getters advance to a runoff.

The system wouldn’t apply to “county” offices such as recorder of deeds and collector of revenue. State law requires that they be chosen in partisan elections.

Under a current ordinance on nonpartisan candidates, everyone running for citywide offices will have to collect  signatures equal to 2 percent of the votes cast for mayor in the last general election for mayor. Two percent of the amount cast for mayor in the 2017 election was 1,170.

Candidates for aldermen will have to collect signatures equal to 2 percent of the vote for mayor in 2017 in their ward. Often, that can be just two or three dozen.

“It’s frankly not a high threshold,” said Gary Stoff, Republican director of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners.

Proponents claim the measure will end forever the current system, in which the candidate for mayor or comptroller who receives the most votes wins the Democratic primary, usually with far less than 50 percent of the vote. Without any real Republican opposition, that person easily wins the general election.

They note that Lyda Krewson won the Democratic primary for mayor in 2017 with 32 percent of the vote, while Lewis Reed won the Democratic primary for Board of Aldermen president in 2019 with 36 percent of the vote. Both overwhelmingly won the general election.

“A nonpartisan system means that St. Louis’s leaders can work with state leaders across party lines more effectively, since they represent voters in a nonpartisan fashion,” said an item in stlapproves.org, a website that supported Proposition D.

But opponents are uneasy about what the new system will do for the city.

“Mayor Krewson said last week that St. Louis is now the guinea pig of a voting style that’s done hardly anywhere in the rest of the country,” Jacob Long, a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, said in an email.

“She’s not opposed to the idea of a run-off election, but she is not supportive of nonpartisan approval voting,” Long wrote. “She believes it weakens the local Democratic party and could be confusing for voters because they get to vote for as many people as may appear on the ballot.”

Krewson is running for re-election.

City Treasurer Tishaura Jones and 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer also are running, while Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed has set up an exploratory committee to determine whether he should run.

“There’s a lot of unintended consequences,” said Mary Goodman, Reed’s legislative director.

Let’s talk Prop D.

Spencer did not respond to an email asking for comment. But in remarks on her Facebook page before the election, she said she favored it at first, but had concerns.

One of Spencer’s major concerns is the requirement that a candidate collect signatures. This favors incumbents and puts grassroots candidates at a disadvantage, she wrote. It’s also harder during a pandemic.

A nonpartisan system means that St. Louis’ leaders can work with state leaders across party lines more effectively, because they represent voters in a nonpartisan fashion.

A spokesperson for Jones could not be reached.

Before the Nov. 3 election, the Board of Aldermen passed a resolution opposing Proposition D.   “Proposition D will disenfranchise voters; decrease voter turnout; and will eliminate the Democratic Party’s stronghold on the City of St. Louis; it will also cause candidates who want to run for office to have to raise significant amounts of dollars,” the resolution said.

“That’s going to be interesting to see which two candidates make it to the runoff,” said David Kimball, a professor and interim chair of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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