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Overhaul of St. Louis election system passes, residency rule repeal fails

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ST. LOUIS — City voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved an overhaul of the city election system but rejected the repeal of the city’s residency requirement for civil-service workers.

The election measure, requiring candidates for mayor and other offices to run on a nonpartisan basis starting in the upcoming March primary, got more than 68% of the vote in unofficial final returns.

The residency proposal, which as a city charter amendment needed a 60% majority to pass, was favored by only 50%.

Meanwhile, voters approved a property tax increase for early childhood education but rejected revamping the way the city taxes companies that lay fiber networks.

The election law overhaul, Proposition D, sets up a new system in which the top two vote-getters in the March primary move on to an April general election runoff.

The proposition, which got on the ballot via an initiative petition drive, also allows residents to vote for as many primary candidates as they want. Supporters said that process, dubbed approval voting, would ensure that the ultimate winners have a broad base of support.

Benjamin Singer, executive director of Show Me Integrity — one of the groups pushing for the change — on Tuesday night called the vote “a mandate for a more accountable government that will focus on the issues facing St. Louisans instead of divisive political games.”

Besides mayor, the measure will apply to candidates for comptroller, aldermanic president and ward alderman.

The petition drive cranked up after Mayor Lyda Krewson and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed won multi-candidate Democratic primaries in 2017 and last year with majorities below 40%. They then cruised to easy victories in the general election, as most Democratic nominees have done for generations in the heavily Democratic city.

Opponents of the proposition complained that allowing people to vote for multiple candidates in the primary could mean that the first choice of a majority might fail to make it to the general election.

They also argued it would be difficult to educate voters about the change for the fast-approaching March primary, and that the measure wouldn’t affect the city’s county-type offices such as treasurer, sheriff and recorder, which are offices created by state law and will continue to be filled in partisan elections.

Among supporters were Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who finished second to Krewson in the 2017 primary, Recorder of Deeds Michael Butler, and state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed. Opponents included Reed, a majority of aldermen and the city Democratic Central Committee. A spokesman for Krewson said she was against approval voting but not a runoff.

The residency repeal measure, Proposition 1, would have been in addition to a recently-passed state law exempting St. Louis police, firefighters and other first responders hired before Sept. 1, 2023.

The measure would have allowed all civil-service workers — including first responders, regardless of their hire date — to live outside of the city.

Krewson and other supporters said repeal would widen the pool of applicants for hard-to-fill jobs.

Opponents said continuing to mandate that the city’s own workers live in St. Louis makes it more likely they’ll understand the people and areas they’re serving. Opponents also contend that the city personnel department hasn’t done a good enough job recruiting city residents for various jobs.

The property tax measure, Proposition R, will hike taxes by 6 cents for every $100 of assessed value. The revenue will be distributed by the city Mental Health Board to nonprofit service providers.

Supporters of the fiber network tax change, Proposition T, said it would have provided an incentive for more companies to enter the city because the firms wouldn’t have to pay the revamped tax until after they get customers.

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