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Opinion: St. Louis Region Needs To Seriously Look At Our Low Voter Turnout Problem

March 13, 2019 Featured, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Opinion: St. Louis Region Needs To Seriously Look At Our Low Voter Turnout Problem
Vintage photo of the former offices of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners. From my collection

The recent Sunday Poll was about voter turnout:

Q: Agree or disagree: Nothing will increase voter turnout in St. Louis’ local elections, it just is what it is.

  • Strongly agree: 2 [8.7%]
  • Agree: 1 [4.35%]
  • Somewhat agree: 2 [8.7%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 3 [13.04%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 2 [8.7%]
  • Disagree: 6 [26.09%]
  • Strongly disagree: 6 [26.09%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 1 [4.35%]

To those who agreed with the poll’s statement — wake up! There’s lots of ways to increase voter participation. First, we must step back and determine why exactly that eligible voters don’t bother for races other than the national election every four years.

One group is taking a step.

A group called Show Me Integrity is launching a petition drive to gather about 20,000 signatures to make a change to the St. Louis charter instituting “approval voting” in a nonpartisan primary for mayor, aldermen and other city offices. Under that system, recently adopted in Fargo, N.D., voters can cast a vote for as many candidates as they want. The top two vote-winners would advance to a runoff that would replace the general election.
 
St. Louis is among only a handful of major cities that still uses a partisan system allowing a plurality of voters through a party primary and general election to choose leaders.
“That’s increasingly rare,” said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a Washington-based organization that advocates for election reform.

Most big cities have election systems established so more consensus can emerge from a crowded field. Chicago is gearing up for a runoff election with the top two vote winners after whittling down a field of 14 candidates in February. Next month, Kansas City’s nonpartisan mayoral primary will send the two top candidates out of a field of 11 to a June matchup. Closer to home, Maplewood and Richmond Heights hold runoff votes if candidates don’t receive a majority. (Post-Dispatch)

This is new to me, so I’m not yet sure how I feel about it. That said, I welcome their action and the civic discussions it’ll cause.

I’ve been a longtime supporter of ranked-choice voting, aka instant runoff voting.

Ranked choice voting (RCV) makes democracy more fair and functional. It works in a variety of contexts. It is a simple change that can have a big impact.

With ranked choice voting, voters can rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice. Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices. When used as an “instant runoff” to elect a single candidate like a mayor or a governor, RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters. When used as a form of fair representation voting to elect more than one candidate like a city council, state legislature or even Congress, RCV helps to more fairly represent the full spectrum of voters. (FairVote)

Fair representation voting looks interesting:

Fair representation is the principle that a legislature should reflect all of the voters who elect them. Like-minded voters should be able to elect representatives in proportion to their number. In contrast, most elections in the United States are winner-take-all: instead of reflecting all voters, our legislators reflect only the biggest or strongest group of voters that elected them, leaving all others unrepresented. The use of winner-take-all voting methods in our elections for state legislatures and Congress is a central reason for major problems with our politics: gerrymandering, partisan gridlock, no-choice elections and distortions in fair representation all have roots in the inherent problems of winner-take-all methods. (FairVote)

See FairVote’s look at Open Ticket Voting, Cumulative Voting, Single-Vote Method & “Limited Voting”, and Districts Plus here. Other ideas include switching to non-partisan elections, thus eliminating separate partisan primary that’s the real election — the general election a month later just a costly formal confirmation of the Democratic primary.

We need to find the root problem(s) that cause voter turnout through much of the region to be low. Then we need to consider adopting solutions to solve those problems — without causing new problems.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Can Anything Be Done To Increase Voter Turnout In Local Elections

March 10, 2019 Featured, Politics/Policy, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Can Anything Be Done To Increase Voter Turnout In Local Elections
Please vote below

Voter turnout in last week’s St. Louis partisan primary was low, ranging from 10.09% (5th Ward) to 28.02% (8th Ward) — source.

St. Louis voter participation is always the lowest in the region.

Among the eight counties in the St. Louis region, voter turnout tends to be highest in Monroe and St. Charles counties and is often lowest in the city of St. Louis and in St. Clair County. In the 2018 mid-term election, voter turnout among registered voters was highest in St. Charles (64.1 percent), St. Louis (60.8 percent), and in Monroe counties (60.5 percent) and lowest in St. Clair County and in the city of St. Louis (both 51.9 percent).  During the 2016 presidential election, voter turnout was highest in Monroe County (78.4 percent) and lowest in in city of St. Louis (59.2 percent). — source.

Today’s poll is about voter turnout.

This poll will close at 8pm, come back Wednesday for the results and my thoughts on the topic.

— Steve Patterson

 

Challengers Unable To Overcome the Power of Incumbency

March 8, 2019 Board of Aldermen, Featured, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Challengers Unable To Overcome the Power of Incumbency
St. Louis City Hall

Tuesday’s partisan primary is over, next up the candidates from all the parties will face off in the April 2nd general election. Oh right, the Democratic primary is THE election. Next month a few of us will vote again, for the school board. If St  louis elected nonpartisan officials we could eliminate one of two low-turnout elections held one month apart.

Only three of the 15 seats on Tuesday were open seats, one was vacant and two incumbents decided not to seek an additional term.

18th Ward:

  • Only 17% of registered voters participated in the 5-way race for an open seat.
  • Winner Jesse Todd received 38.84% of the vote.
  • Ald. Terry Kennedy decided not to run again.

24th Ward:

  • 21.2% of those registered voted in the 5-way race.
  • Attorney Bret Narayan won a majority of the votes with 55.54% selecting him.
  • Former Ald. Tom Bauer came in 2nd with 16.6%. Whew, thankful he didn’t win. Two independent candidates have filed to run in April, a good plan in case Bauer had won the Democratic nomination.
  • Ald. Scott Ogilvie didn’t run for re-election.

26th Ward:

  • Twenty percent of registered voters cast ballots in this 3-way race.
  • Shameem Hubbard, wife of Rodney Hubbard, won with only 36.73% of the votes.
  • Ald. Frank Williamson resigned after accepting a job in the Treasurer’s office.

Now for the 12 seats where the incumbent won another term. Note that there were a few incumbents I wanted to see win, more I wanted to lose:

2nd Ward:

  • Lisa Middlebrook was re-elected, turnout was 15.9%

4th Ward:

  • Sam Moore won another term, voter turnout was 14.9%

6th Ward:

  • Christine Ingrassia survived the 4-way race with 44.26%, Debra Carnahan came in 2nd place with 27.84%. Turnout was 25.5%.

8th Ward:

  • Annie Rice was re-elected in the 2-way race with nearly seventky percent of the vote, turnout was relatively high: 28%.

10th Ward:

  • Joe Vollmer easily defeated the challenger, with over sixty percent of the votes. Turnout was 21.8%.

12th Ward:

  • Larry Arnowitz crushed his two challengers with 74.33%. Voter turnout was 21.9%.

14th Ward:

  • Carol Howard will have another term with 52.01% to her challenger’s 47.99%. Turnout was 20.6%.

16th Ward:

  • Thomas Oldenburg was unchallenged, turnout was 21.9%.

20th Ward:

  • Cara Spencer defeated her challenger with 69.55%, voter turnout was 17.6%

22nd Ward:

  • Jeffrey Boyd was re-elected with over sixty percent of the votes, turnout was 16.2%.

28th Ward:

  • Heather Navarro wasn’t challenged, voter turnout was 19%.

Board of Aldermen President:

  • Lewis Reed was re-elected to a fourth term in the 4-way race with only 35.63% of the vote, citywide turnout this election was 17.83%.
  • State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed came in 2nd with 31.6%, Ald. Megan Green 3rd with 31.19%, and Jimmie Mathews a very distant 4th with 1.57%.
  • Over 200 people who voted in the democratic primary didn’t vote in this race.
  • Post-Dispatch: “Lewis Reed won only five of the city’s 28 wards in Tuesday’s Democratic primary race for president of the city’s Board of Aldermen, but those victories came in historically high voting areas, providing enough support for him to prevail in a close battle with two opponents.

    By comparison, state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed won 13 wards, dominating the north side. Alderman Megan Ellyia Green won 10, with a strong showing in the central part of the city including her Tower Grove South neighborhood.

    Despite Nasheed’s and Green’s faring well geographically, it was the turnout in the wards Reed won that made the difference.”

Only two races, with three or more candidates, did the winner get a plurality of the votes cast. Four races the winner didn’t get more than 50%. In many places these races would have a runoff election between the top two. Still, in other places they’d have an instant runoff, also known as Ranked-Choice Voting.

A ranked-choice voting system (RCV) is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority. This system is sometimes referred to as an instant runoff voting system. (Ballotpedia)

This video explains RCV:

The ultimate winner might be the same, or not. It just depends on how voters ranked the candidates after their 1st choice. It eliminates the perception of the third candidate as a spoiler.

RCV would be especially helpful in highly crowded races, like the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

— Steve Patterson

 

Opinion: Municipal Bankruptcy Not The Best Option For St. Louis At Present

March 6, 2019 Featured, Politics/Policy, STL Region Comments Off on Opinion: Municipal Bankruptcy Not The Best Option For St. Louis At Present
Eagleton Federal Courthouse, St. Louis

For at least a decade I’ve favored consolidating all the governments in St. Louis City & St. Louis County into one: municipalities, school districts, fire districts, water districts, etc. OK, maybe just 2-3 based purely on geography: urban vs rural.  My goal has been to improve the region and the lives of everyone living here.

But picking a solution comes later in the process:

1. Define the problem

  • Differentiate fact from opinion
  • Specify underlying causes
  • Consult each faction involved for information
  • State the problem specifically
  • Identify what standard or expectation is violated
  • Determine in which process the problem lies
  • Avoid trying to solve the problem without data

2. Generate alternative solutions

  • Postpone evaluating alternatives initially
  • Include all involved individuals in the generating of alternatives
  • Specify alternatives consistent with organizational goals
  • Specify short- and long-term alternatives
  • Brainstorm on others’ ideas
  • Seek alternatives that may solve the problem

3. Evaluate and select an alternative

  • Evaluate alternatives relative to a target standard
  • Evaluate all alternatives without bias
  • Evaluate alternatives relative to established goals
  • Evaluate both proven and possible outcomes
  • State the selected alternative explicitly

4. Implement and follow up on the solution

  • Plan and implement a pilot test of the chosen alternative
  • Gather feedback from all affected parties
  • Seek acceptance or consensus by all those affected
  • Establish ongoing measures and monitoring
  • Evaluate long-term results based on final solution

I don’t know that everyone in the region agrees on the problem, or that a problem even exists. Still with Better Together pushing one solution, many are scrambling to find alternative solutions. Recently St. Louis County Councilman Tom Fitch proposed St. Louis follow Detroit’s 2013 example: file bankruptcy.

The Revised Statutes of Missouri (427.100) grant municipalities the power to declare bankruptcy. It’s time for Better Together and the city of St. Louis to look at this option instead of destroying the current county governance system, which is working for most of the region. Only after the city of St. Louis has reorganized its system of local governance and becomes financially viable should there be a discussion about re-entry into St. Louis County as one of its municipalities.

Bankruptcy isn’t a preferred option for any city. However, it is working for Detroit. It can work for St. Louis — without destroying many of the communities in St. Louis County that we are proud to call home. (Post-Dispatch guest column)

Outgoing 24th Ald. Scott Ogilvie wrote an excellent rebuttal.  Still, I think many options need to be aired, reviewed.

From a 2011 Pew Charitable Trust article, discussing the risks of a municipal bankruptcy:

A Chapter 9 filing immediately raises the likelihood of a credit rating downgrade and, as a result, higher future borrowing costs for the government. The damage to a municipality’s image may result in an exodus of residents or less business investment, which can hit government tax collections and make the underlying budget crisis worse. Public workers worry about slashed salaries or benefits, and all residents could see higher taxes, loss of services or deferred maintenance on necessities such as schools, roads and bridges — although those consequences can precede bankruptcy, too. Even before Jefferson County [Alabama] declared bankruptcy this month, it had laid off more than 500 employees, closed four satellite courthouses and reduced law enforcement services.

It’s important to note that cities don’t emerge from Chapter 9 debt free. Detroit filed bankruptcy in July 2013, exited in December 2014. Retirees took a big hit.

Detroit ultimately shed $7 billion in debt and was able to restructure another $3 billion and put about $1.7 billion into improvements.

In the end, the bankruptcy proceedings eliminated $7.8 billion in payments to retired workers and the city got off the hook for $4.3 billion in unfunded health-care obligations and future costs. 

It could have been far worse. At one point during the bankruptcy journey, the city’s general retirees were threatened with the possibility of seeing their pension checks slashed by up to 34 percent and police and fire retirees were looking at cuts of up to 10 percent. 

Police and firefighter pensioners did not see upfront cuts to their pension checks. But they saw their 2.25 percent annual cost-of-living adjustments reduced to about 1 percent. Police and fire also saw cuts relating to health care, and many are struggling with higher premiums under the Affordable Care Act, too.  (Detroit Free Press)

As Ald. Ogilvie pointed out, a lot of St. Louis retirees live in St. Louis County and elsewhere in the region. Cutting their benefits would ripple through the region. Funding pension obligations are a big issue all over the country, not just in St. Louis. Pensions are for people, they must be considered.

There has been one government bankruptcy in the region, a levee district in St. Peters filed in 2014.

I don’t think St. Louis is anywhere close to being desperate enough to file Chapter 9. If it did, it would pull much of the region’s reputation down with it.

We need to agree on the problems facing the region and explore all options.

 

 

Sunday Poll: Should St. Louis File A Municipal Bankruptcy?

March 3, 2019 Featured, Politics/Policy, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Should St. Louis File A Municipal Bankruptcy?

I’m a policy geek, I love reading about various policy solutions to problems.  Yesterday I finally found a topic for today’s poll.

Please vote below

The subject of today’s poll is municipal bankruptcy. I read articles for and against. To remain neutral I’m not going to quote from either.

Today’s poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

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