St. Louis Alderman Reintroduces Measure to Nullify Voter-Passed Ward Reduction

In 2012, St. Louis City voters approved “Proposition R”, a measure to reduce the size of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen from 28 members to 14. This would mean that the city would see its Ward count reduced to 14 as well. At the time, advocates suggested that the measure would increase efficiency, reduce corruption, and more sensibly represent a city less than half the size of its former population.

As the vote would amend the Charter of the City of St. Louis, it required 60% or greater support to pass. In 2012, voters were able to accomplish this goal after a few prior attempts with a citywide result of 61.5% in favor of the amendment. NextSTL has a useful ward-by-ward graphic that showcases the wide support the measure received almost 9 years ago. The proposition was written such that it would go into effect following the 2020 Census, a milestone we are nearing rapidly today.

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In the near-decade since the passage of Proposition R, the Board of Aldermen has made few attempts toward implementation. With no proposed Ward boundaries whatsoever, the Board has declined to prepare for the inevitable. Rather, it has done just the opposite. Aldermen John Collins-Muhammad Jr. and Joseph Vaccaro have led the charge.

  • In the 2018-2019 session, Collins-Muhammad Jr. introduced Board Bill 25, which would reverse Proposition R and maintain the original 28 Wards. This Board Bill was eventually withdrawn by Collins-Muhammad Jr., but was co-sponsored by Aldermen Bosley, Moore, Kennedy, and Williamson. At the time, Collins-Muhammad Jr. had suggested that without a plan, they should not move forward. nearly 3 years later, it is unclear if he has worked to create one.
  • In June of 2020, Collins-Muhammad Jr. introduced Board Bill 77A, which would reverse Proposition R and maintain the original 28 Wards. Board Bill 77A was co-sponsored by Alderman Vaccaro. This Board Bill narrowly passed the Board and was vetoed by then Mayor Krewson in early 2021.
  • On May 27, 2021, Collins-Muhammad Jr. again introduced a nearly identical bill. Board Bill 38 would again reverse Proposition R and maintain the original 28 Wards. There are no co-sponsors just yet. However, if passed via the Board, it would require city voters to again vote on a measure they approved nearly 9 years prior that the Board has failed to implement or prepare for.

There is a growing tendency in U.S. politics for elected leaders to eschew democratic norms. By “democratic”, we mean in relation to democracy itself and respecting the will of the voters and the results of free and fair elections, not specifically the Democratic Party. This is particularly evident in national politics with some Republican leaders espousing “The Big Lie”, a conspiracy with no grounds that could not win a single court case of dozens tried, that former President Trump won the election. Some may assume that this tendency is limited to the Republican Party, but that is very much not the case, even if it may hold the most insidious and notorious example. Rather, respect for democratic norms can and has degraded some across party lines.

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The actions of Alderman John Collins-Muhammad Jr. represent just that at a local level. His consistent reintroduction of Board Bills that would nullify Proposition R would reverse the clear will of the voters in 2012. While there is nothing illegal strictly about doing so, it undermines the decision-making authority of a voter-passed Charter amendment that by no means was controversial. Instead, Proposition R passed with nearly two thirds of the vote. Collins-Muhammad Jr. claims that this was the case without support from North City, an entirely disingenuous claim that is easily disproven. While few North City Wards approved the amendment, there was strong support in each Ward generally still above 40% support. We encourage readers to view NextSTL’s graphics mentioned earlier. Even if none supported the amendment, the entire city shares a Charter, and he is seeking to change the rules of an entire city for an incredibly unpopular structure backed by fewer than 40% of St. Louisans.

Given that the Board of Aldermen has not prepared for the Ward reduction or drawn new boundaries, not to mention the many conflicts of interest that could arise when working to redraw their own seats, many St. Louisans have gathered to wrestle this power away from the Board. The group, Show Me Integrity, was able to fundraise over $100,000 and has begun work to gather the 30,000 signatures necessary to allow a nonpartisan commission to independently redraw the Ward boundaries. If they reach their signature goal, then their measure dubbed “Reform STL” will go before St. Louis constituents for a vote.

St. Louis City’s First Foray With ‘Approval Voting’ Begins March 2nd

St. Louis City is poised to have its first municipal election utilizing ‘Approval Voting‘, a method of voting that voters overwhelmingly adopted in November 2020 with the passing of Proposition D. Tomorrow’s March 2nd municipal primary election will be the first time St. Louis voters get to vote for more than one candidate for a given office. St. Louis is one of the first U.S. cities to adopt such a measure, with Fargo being the first just under a year ago.

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While voters are used to choosing a single candidate, the city’s new voting system passes with Proposition D allows voters to choose multiple candidates that they approve of. There is still a primary and a general election, with the primary taking place March 2nd and the general/runoff on April 6th, but the candidates in the runoff will no longer represent the top candidate from either party.

Missouri-Metro & Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood Association Video on Approval Voting

Instead, Proposition D has instituted nonpartisan Approval Voting, which seeks to create more opportunity for different ideas and parties to gain momentum and make an impact on elections usually dominated by the two-party system. Moreover, the new system is intended to better reflect actual voting preferences. Proponents of Approval Voting explain that under the more traditional ‘Plurality Voting’ method utilized in most of the U.S. and formerly in St. Louis, voters often chose the “lesser of two evils” rather than their most preferred candidate. The reasoning behind doing so rested in seeking to prevent your worst case scenario rather than improving the chances for your favorite candidate.

“Approval voting gives voters more power by allowing them to select all the candidates they wish, avoiding issues with vote-splitting, spoiler candidates, and strategic voting. Many political scientists believe it is a very representative system.”

https://stlapproves.org/faq

Just how does Approval Voting supposedly better reflect real preferences? On the March 2nd primary ballot, voters will not see party identifications, despite each candidate (at least in the Mayoral race) publicly tying themselves to a party. Moreover, and perhaps the most significant difference to St. Louisans, is that voters may vote, or “approve”, of as many candidates as they like on tomorrow’s ballot.

A sample ballot wherein a STL voter would “Approve” of every Mayoral candidate on March 2nd

The top two “approved” candidates, which are intended to reflect voters’ real interests, then would advance to the general election runoff on April 6, where only two candidates for a given seat will face off. Proponents of Approval Voting suggest that the top two candidates who make it to the runoff in April will have broader support than candidates who squeak by on a plurality.

The list of candidates for the March 2 primary can be found via St. Louis city here. Polls are open from 6AM to 7PM, and you can find your polling place here.

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