St. Louis Case Study
The approval voting movement is about people, not policy. The successful passage of Proposition D in St. Louis was not about The Center for Election Science, it was about the ordinary citizens who took on a broken system. In many ways, St. Louis provides a perfect case study of common political conditions in American cities and a blueprint for how to change them.
For years, St. Louis’s 318,000 residents have struggled to solve challenges related to poverty alleviation, education reform, and public safety. Black residents—about 45% of the population—have struggled to be heard in the face of hyper-partisanship.
A Vote-Split that Launches a Movement
The St. Louis Democratic mayoral primary in 2017 received very little national attention. To many observers, it was just another close election in which a candidate was elected without majority popular support. On Election Day, Lyda Krewson won a crowded 7-candidate primary with 32.04% of the vote.
Within these results lay the problem of vote-splitting, a systemic issue that prevents our elections from producing results that accurately reflect the will of the voters. Krewson was elected despite the fact that nearly 68 percent of the votes were cast for other candidates. St. Louis’ Black majority split their vote among four other Black candidates, including Tishaura Jones, who finished a close 2nd with 30.4% of the vote.
And this 2017 election wasn’t an outlier. Candidates have been winning with small margins for decades in St. Louis, leaving citizens with weak leaders who lacked the political backing to tackle the life-or-death problems facing the city.
Finally, after this egregious vote-split mayoral election, citizens had had enough. A group of activists joined together to form STL Approves and bring fair, representative elections to the people of St. Louis through Prop D. The local advocates leading this movement demanded accountability from public leaders and elections that don’t suppress the political power of its most marginalized voters. To accomplish this, they proposed implementing a nonpartisan, approval voting primary followed by a top-two runoff.
Together with a coalition of community groups and nonprofits, including The Center for Election Science, STL Approves led Prop D to a stunning victory in November of 2020. Prop D passed with 67% of the vote, receiving support from all across the city.
At last, the people of St. Louis would have their voices heard.
Approval Voting Elects a Consensus Candidate in 2021
Luckily for the people of St. Louis, they didn’t have to wait long to use their newfound approval voting power. In March of 2021, the first nonpartisan, approval voting primary was held to elect a new mayor.
Remember Lyda Krewson, the incumbent who won with 32% of the vote in 2017? After a rocky term that included public protests against her, she opted not to run again under the new approval voting system. This provided an opportunity for fresh voices to enter the race in approval voting’s first test.
Four candidates ran in the nonpartisan primary, including Tishaura Jones—the runner up from 2017. In the past, the Black vote and the progressive vote would have gotten split among multiple candidates thanks to choose-one voting. But that didn’t happen this time.
Tishaura Jones and Cara Spencer, the two progressive-leaning candidates, advanced to the top-two primary, securing 57% and 46% of the vote respectively. The broad support shown for these two candidates showed that voters in St. Louis were ready for a progressive leader who would enact bold policies to address issues facing the city.
Jones went on to win the top-two general, and she did so by breaking the traditional “Delmar Divide”—the geographical divide between the mostly-white neighborhoods and mostly-Black neighborhoods in St. Louis. Jone received support from all across the city, showing that she was a consensus candidate who truly represented the voice of the people.
And approval voting is a significant part of that. Approval voting allowed voters to show support for ALL the candidates they liked, no longer having to hitch their wagon to only one horse. The political power of the city’s Black community was restored—no longer diluted by choose-one voting.
Now that St. Louis has the means to elect candidates who are accountable to the people, we expect to see meaningful change and attention paid to issues like public education, poverty, and violence that plague the city. Approval voting is not just a new way of voting. It’s a means to improve people’s lives by electing the most representative leaders with real solutions to the struggles faced by underserved communities.
When every voter’s voice is heard, we can make real change. Let’s do it together with approval voting.