St. Louis Votes To Remake Local Elections, Residency Requirement Remains
Municipal elections in St. Louis will look very different next year.
City voters on Tuesday endorsed Proposition D, which makes the offices of mayor, comptroller, alderman and board president nonpartisan. Voters will be able to select as many candidates as they want in the March primary, a method of holding elections known as approval voting. The top two candidates will advance to the April general election.
Voters also decided to keep a residency requirement for certain city employees, approved a tax increase for early childhood education and reelected Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Sheriff Vernon Betts, all Democrats.
Under Proposition D voters can select as many candidates as they wish in the March primary, and the top two will advance to the April general election.
Backers of the change say it ensures that elected officials have the support of a majority of voters. Both Mayor Lyda Krewson and Board President Lewis Reed won crowded Democratic primaries with less than 40% of the vote, but faced nominal opposition in the general election.
The changes do not impact the so-called county offices such as treasurer, circuit attorney, collector of revenue and sheriff.
Mallory Rusch, the campaign manager for STL Approves, which pushed for Proposition D, said the next step would be a major voter education campaign to "make sure that each and every voter is well equipped to to utilize the increased power that they're going to have."
“We’re going to be working really closely with community organizations, with individuals who are running for office in the spring, with ward-level leaders and organizations," Rusch said.
Krewson, who plans to run for re-election, already faces two confirmed challengers, and others were expected to jump in regardless of the outcome of Proposition D. Municipal filing opens Nov. 23.
The African American caucus of the Board of Aldermen had urged a no vote on the proposition, arguing that it would disenfranchise voters and “eliminate the Democratic Party’s stronghold” in the city. Third-party candidates worry the change will make it more difficult for their parties to keep their spot on ballots in the city, which is guaranteed as long as a candidate receives 2% of the votes cast in an election.
The city’s charter has included a residency requirement since 1914, and residency rules reportedly go back to the 19th century. 2020 marked the fourth year in a row the Board of Aldermen had attempted to put the issue before voters.
The change received 49%, well below the required 60% threshold. In a statement, the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, which represents a number of city workers, called the results “disappointing.
“While police and firefighters have the freedom to build their lives anywhere, our represented employees do not,” the union said. “We will continue the fight for this freedom on behalf of our more than 1,000 represented city employees.”
Police officers and firefighters have the right to move out, at least temporarily due to a change in state law. An official with the union said they had not yet determined whether to file a legal challenge over that difference.
Early childhood education funding
Proposition R marked the newest attempt by city officials and community activists to increase funding for St. Louis early childhood education.
The region faces a severe shortage of spots for children and high costs.
On Tuesday, the measure passed, with 56% of city residents agreeing to increase their property taxes to benefit the educational fund. Tax rates will rise 6 cents, or roughly $20 annually for a home valued at $200,000.
Supporters say Prop R is a great first step toward fixing the early childhood education shortage in the city by allowing care centers to better pay and train their employees.
The tax increase will raise around $2.3 million for the fund every year and go into effect in 2021.
Other local races
The circuit attorney race between Gardner and Republican Daniel Zdrodowski was a contest between a reform agenda and a traditional law-and-order posture. Zdrodowski hit Gardner hard over growing violence in the city, especially the near-record homicide numbers, which as of Tuesday night sat at 217.
Gardner won with 74 percent of the vote, She said she was "humbled" to be re-elected by such a wide margin.
"And I look forward to working with everyone to really address the root causes of what drives individuals to the criminal justice system and bringing us all together because we have to do better and that means we have to address tough issues, "she said.
Zdrodowski did not comment on the results.
In addition to the Gardner, Betts and Jones victories, Democrats won all of the state House seats that include parts of St. Louis.
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