With the passage of Proposition D in St. Louis on Nov. 3, political analysts say 74% of Black voters are more likely to hit the polls in March and April for the municipal election.
The proposition now makes elections open and non-partisan for the offices of mayor, comptroller, president of the Board of Aldermen, and the Board of Aldermen. Proponents of the measure also argue that it will protect the collective power of Black voters and progressives in St. Louis by ensuring their votes will not be split among several similar candidates, which has happened in the past.
For instance, in the April 2017 in mayoral Democratic primary, seven candidates fought for the Democratic slot on the general election ballot. The votes were drastically divided. Lyda Krewson won with 32.04% —888 separating her from Tishaura Jones, who received 30.4% of the votes.
Following them, Lewis Reed received 18.3%, and Antonio French garnered 15.84% of the vote. The other candidates received less than 3% of the vote each.
“I think Prop D is better for government, period. I supported it because it is a way to reduce spoiler candidates,” Tishaura Jones said while announcing her 2021 mayoral candidacy this month. “… And it’s a way for everyone to participate in their democracy.”
Rossetta Okohson, Jones’ campaign strategist, said their focus for the 2021 mayoral election will not change. Jones intends to continue contacting and educating as many voters as possible, like they did during this year’s treasurer’s primary against Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, 22nd Ward.
Jones won that primary 58.5% to 41.5%.
“We did social distance door knocking in the city and were able to knock on 50,000 doors in two and a half months,” Okohson said. “And so our plans to talk with voters and engage them and make sure that their questions are answered and they’ve asked what they feel like they need to ask — that part of the strategy won’t change”
Proposition D was passed by St. Louis voters by a decisive margin of 68.14% to 31.86%.
As for how the ballots will change, Show Me Integrity Executive Director Benjamin Singer said to expect primary ballots to be nonpartisan. They will ask voters to choose as many candidates as they approve of in each race, regardless of party affiliation.
The two candidates with the most votes will then face off in the general election. Proposition D affects elections for mayor, comptroller, board president and aldermen nonpartisan offices.
Singer noted that there are at least 13 instances in the last five years where a St. Louis candidate has been elected to office without a majority of the vote. So, he said, it was impossible to know if St. Louis was really electing the person with the broadest support.
His argument is supported by data collected by The Center for Election Science, which found 27% of Black voters in the city feel they are represented well.
With this new method of voting, he said, St. Louis will most likely see two Democratic candidates make it to the general election ballot, instead of one Republican and Democrat.
“I think this will make politicians focus on the actual issues instead of dividing people based on party,” Singer said, noting that often in the past, politicians focused on a few neighborhoods in the city to acquire a small constituency that was enough to carry them through the election.
Okohson added that in 2017 approximately 72% eligible voters in the city did not vote or participate in the election.
“I think that was a message. I think the message is that we don't feel heard and we don't have enough people here that [we] feel like are going to do something for us and it doesn't matter,” she said. “And so that's on anyone who’'s running to really make sure that message comes across to voters so that they not only feel empowered, but they feel excited.”
Singer pointed to Fargo, North Dakota, as an example. Fargo is the first city in the country to use approval voting in an election on June 9. The two candidates who went on to the general election received votes on 55% and 53% of primary ballots, according to The Center for Election Science.
“It's like we just don't know if the person who wins actually has the most support — it’s random,” Singer said of traditional voting.
The primary for the St. Louis mayoral election will be held March 2; the general election will be held on April 6.