A recent contentious St. Louis municipal election illustrates the need for voting reform, advocates say.
The overwhelmingly Democratic city—in 2015, 28 of the city’s 28 wards were represented by Democrats— utilizes partisan primaries to determine its nominees for municipal positions. Given the city’s heavy Democratic leaning, whoever wins the Democratic primary tends to be a shoo-in in the June general election.
In the most recent primaries, held March 5, Lewis Reed defeated two other Democratic challengers to win the party’s nomination for Board of Alderman president with 35.6 percent of the vote—far less than a majority in a race that saw turnout fall below 18 percent of eligible voters.
In effect, less than 6 percent of eligible voters determined the next president of the city’s Board of Aldermen.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that third-place candidate Megan Green (31.2 percent) called for ranked choice voting (RCV) in her concession speech. Green noted:
“From a governance standpoint, being able to have that closure and being able to say over 50 percent of the voters in the city agree with the viewpoints of a particular candidate is important for our democracy.”
While the Post-Dispatch reported that a petition calling for RCV has circulated in the city in recent months, advocacy groups have instead pushed for approval voting, another alternative voting method which proponents suggested in part because St. Louis’s current voting machines are not compatible with RCV.
However, if voting reform bill HR 1 is signed into law, any new, federally funded voting equipment must be RCV-compatible. This requirement, coupled with the actual adoption of RCV by the municipal government, would ensure that any candidate elected to city-wide office is satisfactory to a majority of voters.