Proposition D for Democracy Campaign Discusses Novel St. Louis Ballot Initiative
Posted by Russell Daniels on May 26, 2020 at 10:37 AM
Proposition D for Democracy Campaign Discusses Novel St. Louis Ballot Initiativ
May 21, 2020
Voters in St. Louis will have an opportunity to completely transform the way they elect their city officials in 2020 under Proposition D -- D for Democracy. The initiative will, according to advocates, correct an electoral system that has completely failed St. Louis voters.
“We have what is known as the worst type of elections here in St. Louis, which party primaries with plurality voting,” said Benjamin Singer of St. Louis Approves, the campaign that got Proposition D on the ballot.
Singer joined other advocates on a Zoom call hosted by Open Primaries on Wednesday, May 20, to discuss the reform. The initiative would implement nonpartisan, top-two open primaries with approval voting for city elections -- a novel combination of reforms to transform the political process.
“By consulting with election experts across the country […] it was very clear to us that the way to move forward was with a nonpartisan open primary system where you can vote for as many candidates as you’d like,” said Singer.
All voters and candidates, regardless of party, would participate on a single primary ballot. If there are 5 candidates running in a race, and a voter likes 3 of them, they can vote for all 3 candidates under approval voting. The two candidates with the highest vote totals move on to the November election.
Approval voting is brand new to government elections. It will be used for the first time in Fargo, ND, during the city’s June 9 primary. St. Louis will be the second city to adopt its use in two years if voters approve Proposition D in November.
The combination of nonpartisan primaries and approval voting, advocates say, will give voters a level playing field in elections, while ensuring that candidates won’t win with just 35% of the vote like the current mayor did. Singer said in the primary this equated to about 5% of the electorate.
The status quo has led to severely under-represented and disenfranchised blocs of the voting population, especially the black community in what Reverend Darryl Gray calls a segregated city with segregated politics.
“You feed the horse that brought you across the line,” said Gray. The reverend is a community leader and strong voice for Proposition D.
Elected leaders tend to feel beholden only to the voters who got them elected. In a case where a marginal percentage of voters gets a politician in office, that politician is only going to represent that group -- exacerbating the issue of marginalized communities with no voice in city policy.
“Without open primaries, you do not force candidates to collaborate — you don’t force politicians to build coalitions,” said Gray
Two top researchers recently discussed the healthier benefits nonpartisan top-two primaries have had in California -- including fostering a political environment where cross-partisan coalitions are encouraged to collaborate on long-term solutions that benefit a broad scale of voters.
Gray believes Proposition D can have the same effect on St. Louis, and would give a stronger voice to the black community, and others that feel left out of the conversation.
STL Approves submitted over 20,000 petition signatures to get Proposition D on the ballot. According to participants on the call, 10,000 of those signatures were gathered in a single day. Singer said voters just get it.
“The voters have struggled with the problem of voting in a broken system where they have to think strategically,” he said. “In this case, with approval voting, you can vote for your honest favorite.”
Proponents of Proposition D say approval voting makes sense for St. Louis in particular. Singer says the election machines aren’t programmed to use ranked choice voting, so approval voting is a practical alternative. Reverend Gray also believes it is easier on voter education.
There may not be a one size fits all solution when it comes to what alternative voting to use -- what works for one community may not work for another. Using cities, counties, and states as individual laboratories of democracy is how reformers figure out what proposals are needed to best serve voters.