St. Louis Voters Use New Approval Voting System in March Primary Election
St. Louis, MO – On Tuesday, March 2nd, voters in St. Louis used a new voting system passed by ballot initiative last November. Under the new system, voters participate in a nonpartisan, approval voting primary, where they can vote for as many candidates as they support. The top two candidates advance to a runoff on April 6th.
Approval voting proved successful. The top two mayoral candidates—Tishaura Jones and Cara Spencer—received over 57% and 46% approval, respectively. In previous mayoral primaries, vote-splitting along ideological and racial lines allowed candidates to win with less than 33% of the vote.
“Approval voting functioned just as it was supposed to—candidates with truly broad approval move from the primary to the general election,” said Kathleen Farrell, League of Women Voters City Unit Leader. “We’re thrilled that the people of St. Louis will have a chance to elect a candidate with broad support from the community, not someone who lacks a mandate to lead, as in years past.”
Based on vote totals, it’s clear that voters took advantage of their newfound ability to select multiple candidates—which skeptics and opponents had questioned. On average, there were 1.56 votes per ballot, meaning that many voters selected two or more candidates.
Approval voting clearly allowed voters to express their support for all the candidates they identify with. The voters’ rally around Tishaura Jones and Cara Spencer shows the current preference in St. Louis is for a more progressive brand of politics.
“The people of St. Louis have found the solution to unifying their voice—approval voting,” said Aaron Hamlin, Executive Director of The Center for Election Science. “It was simple, and it was free. We look forward to working with the next city and state to upgrade their elections as part of our nationwide work.”
Voters passed Prop D, the initiative including approval voting, with 68% support in 2020. A diverse coalition, including The Center for Election Science, Show Me Integrity, the League of Women Voters, Open Primaries, Our Revolution, the SEIU, and Congresswoman Cori Bush, led this effort.
As some cities and states pursue ranked choice voting, St. Louis is taking a different path. Until Tuesday, primary winners in St. Louis often would win with 40% (or less) due to vote splitting among similar candidates. Cost, simplicity, and a fix for vote splitting were the key reasons why St. Louis activists chose approval voting for their elections over other methods.
“Approval voting makes leaders more accountable to ALL St. Louisans, instead of winning with 30% of the vote,” said Benjamin Singer, Executive Director of Show Me Integrity. “Approval voting gives winners a mandate for the bold, visionary leadership that St. Louis desperately needs.”
Media Contact: Aaron Hamlin
The Center for Election Science is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to empowering voters with voting methods that strengthen democracy. We support grassroots efforts to bring approval voting to cities across the country. In 2018, we worked with activists in Fargo, ND to help it become the first city in the US to enact approval voting. In 2019 and 2020, we provided grants to STL Approves in support of the Prop D initiative campaign.