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Pro & Con: Prop D Would Transform St. Louis Politics. The Question Is How

St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, at left, and state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge joined Monday’s broadcast.
Courtesy of John Collins-Muhammad & Rasheen Aldridge
St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, at left, and state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge joined Monday’s broadcast.

Proponents of a ballot initiative St. Louis voters are weighing this fall argue Proposition D would change municipal races for the better. They envision a nonpartisan system that puts the focus on local issues that matter most, fosters a more responsive government and addresses vote-splitting and other concerns associated with the heavily Democratic city’s current primary setup.

“Currently the system that we have has really honestly been failing the voters when it comes to giving a mandate to individuals who will be making large decisions on our local level — from alderman to president of the Board of Aldermen, to your own mayor,” said Missouri state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-78th District, who also serves as the Democratic committeeman for St. Louis’ 5th Ward.

But not everyone is on board. Late last month, the African American Aldermanic Caucus issued a statement in opposition to Prop D, saying the proposed new system — an open primary where voters choose all the candidates they approve of, followed by a runoff between the top two vote-getters — would mean “the elimination of the Democratic Party within the City.”

“Proposition D obscures true debates and issue-driven dialogue among candidates and eliminates genuine binary choices between two top-tier candidates,” the statement read in part, going so far as to call the plan “a numbers gimmick.”

St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward, is a member of the caucus, and on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air he joined host Sarah Fenske to explain why he and some of his colleagues are opposed to Prop D.

Aldridge, who represented the STL Approves perspective during the same on-air conversation, called Prop D a game-changer.

“Prop D gives voters the chance to be able to vote for multiple candidates, which isn’t anything new,” he said. “There’s many cities that have similar type of ballot initiatives, like ranked-choice voting, or have gotten rid of their whole partisan elections, the whole get-go.

"But what Prop D does is it allows voters to be able to have a choice to say which candidates that they like and be able to have really tough conversations with those candidates on not just your name recognition or how much money you have but actually being able to hold their feet to the fire on the issues.”

Aldridge added that St. Louis’ low levels of voter engagement is a big problem in his view.

“When you look at the last elections we had here,” the representative said, “in the president of the Board of Aldermen race back in March, 17% of the people came out, and in the general it dropped to 10%.”

By contrast, Collins-Muhammad called the Prop D initiative “categorically insane” and outlined what he considers to be deep flaws in an approval-voting system.

“It’s possible that a candidate whom well over half of the voters see as a top choice could lose to someone who nobody sees as their top choice,” the alderman said. “Under this flawed system, this doesn’t make it fairer or any better than our current system. It makes it worse.”

Collins-Muhammad also emphasized that only one other U.S. city does elections in the exact same way that Prop D outlines.

“That is Fargo, North Dakota … I’ve talked with three different city leaders [there] — they think this is absolutely terrible,” he said.

Collins-Muhammad added that it’s “outsiders” who are pushing Prop D, a claim that Aldridge contested.

“This isn’t outside money,” Aldridge said. “Your Congresswoman-elect Cori Bush … supports this. … Many people in the city of St. Louis have signed this ballot initiative and have been out knocking doors and believe in it, because what we currently have is not working for voters.”

Several callers joined the on-air discussion, and others shared their thoughts on Twitter.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.