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Proposal To Remake Local Elections In St. Louis Expected On November Ballot

According to Washington University's Center for Social Development's latest study, predominantly black residents and low-income communities in the region face barriers in casting their ballots.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Proposition D would change the way candidates for certain offices are elected in St. Louis.

A group that wants to radically change the way candidates are elected to some offices in St. Louis has collected enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

City law currently calls for partisan primaries in March for mayor, comptroller, the Board of Aldermen and its president. Because the city is so heavily Democratic, the April general election usually does not matter. That means candidates can effectively win citywide office with much less than 50% of the primary vote.

If approved, Proposition D would make all those posts nonpartisan. Voters would be able to select as many candidates as they want in March, and the top two would go to a runoff in April.

“We all know now, as we’re living with coronavirus, how extremely important it is that the public give good support to their leaders in local government,” said Kathleen Farrell, a board member of the League of Women Voters of Missouri, which supports the proposition. “And it’s because of that the need to pass Prop D is even more important.”

Mayor Lyda Krewson won the2017 mayoral primary with 32% and by less than 1,000 votes, and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed won re-election in 2019 by less than a percentage point.

Though many of the backers of Proposition D supported people other than Reed and Krewson in their races, they say it is not about one particular race or candidate.

“We kind of take it for granted after we win in March or in August that all campaigning stops after that,” said state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis. “It’s bigger than politics. People want to care more about the issues, and see if these politicians are actually talking about the issues that they care about, not just during the primary.”

Proposition D needs a simple majority to pass. Unless the Board of Aldermen acts, it will go to the voters in November. The first election under the new setup would be 2021, when the mayor, comptroller and aldermen for odd-numbered wards are elected.

A spokesman for Krewson said the mayor is always open to putting issues on the ballot but was concerned about its impact on the local Democratic Party. 

Her lone opponent so far in the 2021 race, Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, said that she needed to evaluate Proposition D more closely before taking a position but that the conversation about changing elections in St. Louis was an important one to have.

Joe Hodes, the chair of the city’s Republican Central Committee, said the committee had not taken an official position on Proposition D but added there was some skepticism that it would break the Democratic Party’s stranglehold on city politics.

Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green could not immediately be reached for comment. 

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