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St. Louis Gears Up For First Election Using Approval Voting

File Photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Tuesday's primary election marks the first in St. Louis using approval voting.

Election officials in St. Louis say they expect a new method of choosing candidates to go smoothly Tuesday.

The municipal primary is the first using approval voting. Voters can select as many candidates as they want in the primary, and the top two advance to a runoff in April. Candidates for mayor, comptroller and the Board of Aldermen also now run without party labels.

A screenshot of a sample ballot shows the reminders that voters will see when making their choices.
Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
A screenshot of a sample ballot shows the reminders that voters will see when making their choices.

Gary Stoff, the Republican director of elections for the city, said voters will get plenty of reminders about the new process when they go to vote.

“There’ll be reminders at the polling place in terms of signage,” he said. “The poll workers will be reminding the voters. And the ballot itself indicates that voters can vote for as many candidates as they wish.”

Stoff said while the Board of Election Commissioners has gotten calls from voters with questions about the process, he has not heard of any confusion. And he added that the voting machines the city uses are already technically capable of handling approval voting. A similar system is in place for seats on the Board of Education, letting voters select as many candidates as there are open seats.

There are four people running for mayor — utility executive Andrew Jones, Treasurer Tishaura Jones, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer. Comptroller Darlene Green is unopposed.

Residents in odd-numbered wards will pick their top two candidates for aldermen. There are also elections in the 4th and 12th wards to fill the remainder of terms of aldermen who left office. Of the 16 legislative races, the primary will matter in seven of them — in the other nine races, incumbents are either running unopposed or against one other person.

Though the city again opened satellite locations for in-person absentee voting, the failure of the state to extend a coronavirus-related expansion of voting options has likely reduced the number of people voting before Election Day. While 47,000 people used mail-in or absentee ballots in the November 2020 primary, Stoff said just 2,500 such ballots had been returned as of Feb. 24. However, turnout for presidential elections is always significantly higher overall than for municipal primaries.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.