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Aldermanic resignations lead to a flurry of St. Louis elections

Patrick Henry Elementary School in St. Louis.
Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
The "I Voted" stickers will be in use quite a bit this summer in St. Louis as a series of aldermanic resignations means there will be three elections in 35 days.

A series of resignations at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen means there will be three elections within 35 days this summer.

Sarah Wood Martin left her 11th Ward seat in April because of a new conflict-of-interest policy voters adopted earlier that month.

Then, John Collins-Muhammad resigned as 21st Ward alderman May 11, less than a month before he was indicted on federal corruption charges. That same investigation also ensnared Jeffrey Boyd, who served the 22nd Ward before he too resigned June 3.

Unless they occur within 6 months of a general election, the city charter requires a vacancy at the Board of Aldermen to be filled by a special election within 90 days. While the 21st Ward election lines up with the Aug. 2 primary, the elections in the other 2 wards will take place on random summer Tuesdays – July 19 for the 11th Ward, and Aug. 23 for the 22nd Ward.

Each special election will likely cost the city about $10,000, said Democratic elections director Ben Borgmeyer. And the logistics are made even more complicated by the fact that the candidates are running in the boundaries set by the old 28-ward map.

“We basically have to have two political maps in place, and making sure that those political districts are correctly defined, it does present challenges internally,” Borgmeyer said.

Despite the pressure, Borgmeyer said he was confident all the elections would go off smoothly.

Turnout for municipal elections, even during major citywide races like mayor or president of the Board of Aldermen, rarely reaches 30% of registered voters. And the turnout for the 28th Ward special election earlier this year was just 12.5% – the winner received fewer than 1,000 votes.

While elections are a better method of filling vacancies than appointments, Washington University political science professor Betsy Sinclair said such low turnout makes the results undemocratic.

“You can have elected officials who really don’t feel beholden to the full populations of voters. And that’s tremendously problematic for representative democracy,” she said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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