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St. Louis Helps Pave Way for Nonpartisan Election Reform

This fall, nearly 70% of St. Louis voters backed the idea of switching to "approval voting." (Adobe Stock)
This fall, nearly 70% of St. Louis voters backed the idea of switching to "approval voting." (Adobe Stock)
November 19, 2020

ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- City elections in St. Louis will change next year after residents approved a nonpartisan primary system in what's known as "approval voting."

Supporters say having cities in Middle America get on board helps with broader reform efforts.

The new system allows voters to choose as many candidates as they want during the primaries, allowing the two top vote-getters to advance.

The idea is to elect someone who garnered the widest support. Approval voting averts the cost and complexities of associated with "ranked-choice" voting. Earlier this year, Fargo, North Dakota, became the first U.S. city to enact the practice.

Chris Raleigh, director of campaigns and advocacy at the Center for Election Science, said voting reforms get heavy focus in coastal areas, so having heartland residents endorse this approach is a big deal.

"They're sick of bad elections and bad government like everybody else," Raleigh contended.

Skeptics of approval voting say voters still will be tempted to use ballot strategy by second guessing adding other choices so they don't harm their preferred candidate.

But the Center cautioned no system can fully guarantee a majority winner when there are more than two candidates. Meanwhile, Raleigh added he hopes to see the movement gain momentum in states such as Colorado.

In St. Louis, some African-American groups worry approval voting will harm the Democratic Party, which has seen heavy success in local elections.

But Jamala Rogers, executive director of the Organization for Black Struggle, said the party hasn't always produced a candidate who has a backing of the majority of residents, including marginalized voters.

"As part of Prop D education, people found out that three out of five voters often preferred a different candidate," Rogers observed. "To me, that's a huge disenfranchising piece of statistic."

Rogers explained she hopes the process can help create more educated voters who will know more about the candidates they are choosing.

The new approach will be used in the March primary next spring.

Disclosure: Center for Election Science contributes to our fund for reporting on Campaign Finance Reform/Money in Politics, Civic Engagement, and Civil Rights. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MO