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St. Louis voters will get a say on how ward redistricting is done — but when?

Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Bettie Williams (right), the Republican deputy director of the St. Louis City Election Board, and Jackie Williams, a registration supervisor, go through the petitions in support of Prop R on Sept. 20 at the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners. The legislation would, among other things, overhaul the city’s redistricting process and financial disclosure requirements.

Supporters of a ballot item that overhauls how the city handles redrawing Board of Aldermen ward lines received enough signatures to make it on a 2022 ballot.

But there weren't enough signatures to trigger a special election in February. And that could complicate whether the measure has any tangible impact for the current redistricting.

The St. Louis Board of Elections found on Thursday that backers of the plan known as Proposition R collected more than 25,000 valid signatures. Gary Stoff, the Republican election director for the board, said that’s enough for the measure to make it on the ballot next year — but short of a threshold to have it decided in February.

“They submitted 38,000 signatures, but not all of them were good,” Stoff said. “And so, what was actually good was about 25,597 — which is more than the 10% that was required.”

The biggest part of Proposition R is turning over redistricting for the Board of Aldermen to an independent commission. Members of the aldermanic board are currently working on the once-every-10-years process — which is expected to be more contentious this time because they’re reducing the number of wards from 28 to 14. Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed is opposed to the board giving up redistricting power.

Stoff said he’s checking with the election board’s attorney about whether Proposition R will be decided in April 2022.

“If for some reason that was not to occur, the next one would be in August,” he said. “And we’ve asked our lawyer to take a look at it just to make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

One big problem with having the election in August is that the language in Proposition R states that redistricting must be done by Aug. 31. That would be next to impossible to accomplish even if the measure passes in early August.

“If it would turn out that the election was going to be in August, I guess that I think that it would defeat the purpose of what they’re trying to accomplish,” Stoff said. “We’ll do whatever the law provides.”

LaShana Lewis, a board member for the group Show Me Integrity, which helped organize support for Proposition R, said in a statement that the group is “proud that Proposition R for Reform will be on a 2022 ballot for more transparency, accountability, and equity at the Board of Aldermen.”

“We look forward to working with the Board of Elections on scheduling the election date,” she said.

Backers of Proposition R contend that members of the Board of Aldermen should not be ultimately responsible for drawing the boundaries of their wards. They point to language in the measure that seeks to prevent neighborhoods from being divided.

But detractors of the proposal say that aldermen are more equipped to deal with redistricting than a commission that may not have intricate knowledge about the political geography of St. Louis. Others have pointed out that commissions are not always successful at taking politics out of redistricting — since some have deadlocked amid partisan acrimony.

Aldermen are currently in the process of redrawing ward lines. Under the city charter, they have until the end of this year to finish their work.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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