Voting

Under 'Approval Voting,' St. Louis Voters Rally Behind Two Progressive Potential Mayors

No third-party options were on the menu for the launch of this new voting system.

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On Tuesday, St. Louis voters cast 25,000 more votes for their next mayor than there were ballots cast. This wasn't due to fraud but rather the implementation of "approval voting" for the city's primary, which allows voters to vote for each candidate they'd be willing to support in office, rather than select just one.

St. Louis voters gave a thumbs up to approval voting in November with Proposition D. Under approval voting, the candidate with the most votes still wins. But each person casting a ballot is permitted to put a check next to each candidate they support, not just the one they support the most. Ultimately the candidate that has been approved by the greatest number of voters is declared the winner.

In St. Louis, the proposition implemented approval voting for city primaries, with the top two winners facing off again for a final vote. On Tuesday, City Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderman Cara Spencer took first and second place in a field of four. They will run off against each other in April to determine who will be the city's next mayor. According to the city, 44,538 ballots were cast, but there were 69,607 votes for a mayoral candidate. So on average, each voter selected 1.5 choices for mayor.

The Center for Election Science, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization pushing for the implementation of approval voting where possible, supported the grassroots effort to pass Prop. D, and Aaron Hamlin, the group's executive director, tells Reason the election seems to have gone smoothly.

"We've been listening to reports as they're coming out and the overwhelming response we see is that it's easy to use," Hamlin tells Reason. "A number of folks on Twitter expressed relief that they don't  have to split their votes."

Indeed, Jones and Spencer both ran as progressive reformers with a slate of typical urban left policy proposals. Hamlin notes that in the past, the two of them would end up splitting St. Louis's vote, often along racial lines. Voters will still have to decide between the two of them in April, but they may be happier that a progressive is winning the nomination either way.

The election reforms in St. Louis also stripped the race of partisan labels, but in reality three of the candidates were registered Democrats (including both Jones and Spencer) and one was a registered Republican. There were no third-party candidates in the primary, and so St. Louis voters will have two Democrats to choose from in the run-off in April. By contrast, in 2017, both the Libertarian and Green parties had candidates on the ballot, and there were two other independent candidates.

Hamlin says that the lack of third-party candidates this year is not a reflection of the inherent nature of approval voting. The way St. Louis implemented approval voting was specific to how local activists decided to push it. Hamlin believes that approval voting will help Libertarian, Green, or other third-party voters, so long as they have ballot access.

"One of the really big perks is that it captures support for newer and third-party candidates," Hamlin says. "This is a reform that third parties should get behind."

NEXT: Joe Biden, Senate Dems Want To Reduce the Number of Six-Figure Households Getting $1,400 'Relief' Checks. Progressives Are Furious.

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  1. the only perk is more (D) or it wouldn’t exist.

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      1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new…sde after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

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    2. The 70% majorities that Democrats enjoy in the city means that the Board of Aldermen (aka city council) typically has somewhere between 0 and 1 Republicans, out of 30-ish spots. I think that currently there are 0. They recently changed the aldermanic elections to be ‘non-partisan’ as well, so they might be stuck on ‘0’ for a very long time to come.

      For the mayor’s office, they are trying this for two reasons (allegedly):

      1. In a 1-party system, the primaries ARE basically the general election. But they are also crowded. So the (white) candidate from a more affluent area of town might win the primary with only 30-something percent over several (bipoc) candidates from less affluent parts of town. The stated goal is to have the nominee for the general election get at least 50% of the votes in the primary for their party. In the previous mayoral primary election, the current mayor won with about 40% of the vote. Her two closest rivals were both in the high-20’s or low-30’s, and from similar (diverse) parts of town. So if that vote had not been split, she might not be mayor. This is a reaction to that.

      2. Whoever wins the (D) primary race is going to defeat the opposing (R) candidate by a handy margin – It’s usually about 70% – 25% or so, with 5% of people writing in or abstaining or voting for 3rd parties. Now they can be more like California and not bother with the appearance of choice. Everyone can pick whichever democrat they like best or hate least, as you like.

      1. 30 Aldermen for what, a population of 300,000? Deal. I’ll bet they never dropped the number as population dropped, I mean, fled…

        We don’t have Alderman where I live and we are doing great. Hint, hint!

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  2. “But each person casting a ballot is permitted to put a check next to each candidate they support, not just the one they support the most. Ultimately the candidate that has been approved by the greatest number of voters is declared the winner.”

    “willing to support” and “approved” are 2 different concepts.
    Confusing explanation by Reason

    1. Only a quibble for those who love to quibble. Everyone else understands it. No vote is an actual approval of any politician.

  3. I didn’t think it was possible to come up with something worse than ranked choice voting. I stand corrected.

    1. I had always thought that one of the features of both ranked choice and approval voting was to get the vote done in one, and here they send the top two to a runoff election.

      1. You can always get the general election vote done in one go, one vote per person, as long as you allow plurality wins.

        There is only a “problem” getting it done in one go if you insist on a pure majority win and there are more than two candidates.

        Ranked choice and approval voting are solutions looking for a problem to solve.

        1. So it’s only a problem when someone who 60% of the people don’t want to win, ends up winning. Got it

    2. Approval voting is actually much better than ranked choice. The problem in this case isn’t the ability to vote for more than one person, it’s that they packaged it with the creation of an open primary. It’s a clever move by Hamlin: The open primary destroys any chance of election for 3rd parties/republicans, but making it by approval voting allows him to plausibly* say crap like “One of the really big perks is that it captures support for newer and third-party candidates…This is a reform that third parties should get behind.” *Plausible enough to convince the sheep.

      1. Approval voting in a normal general election would be really beneficial to 3rd parties because you could vote L to help with ballot access and still support the R who has an actually shot at winning.

        1. You can do the same with ranked voting.

          1. Ranked choice voting doesn’t provide much visibility to third party support, largely because of its complicated methodology, and it still favors the political duopoly promoted by plurality voting because it is more broadly susceptible to the dissatisfactions of strategic voting.

            1. “Ranked choice voting doesn’t provide much visibility to third party support…”

              That doesn’t make sense. What is “third party support?”

              “…largely because of its complicated methodology…”

              It’s not complicated at all. Be specific. RCV critics are typically married to the elitist voting system we have. Broad generalizations are not solid arguments. RCV is far superior to what we have.

              “…it still favors the political duopoly promoted by plurality voting…”

              It doesn’t come anywhere near being as supportive of the so-called duopoly as the current voting system, which is basically a creation of that monolithic duopoly.

              “…because it is more broadly susceptible to the dissatisfactions of strategic voting.”

              Making these claims requires some kind of evidence or logic. Your “because” provides neither. Plus you provide no alternative, so you must be a partisan who’s happy with the corrupt system that exists for most of us currently. There was certainly plenty of “strategic voting” on display during the 2020 (s)election.

              1. Third party support would be any voters wishing to chose an alternative to Democrats or Republicans. Furthermore, RCV methods all resolve to a final outcome presenting only surviving candidates and do not allow voters to fully express support for any and all candidates they might approve of (e.g. vote for 3) — this lack of discernibility makes it more challenging for new entrants or ‘third parties’ to demonstrate their success in obtaining voter support in elections.

                RCV is undeniably complicated often taking days to resolve the outcome of elections e.g. San Francisco’s last mayoral election.It is certainly far more complicated than, ‘vote for any candidate you approve of using the existing ballots’, and if you disagree, I’d encourage you to provide the world with a reference explanation to dispute my contention…

                I will agree that RCV is superior to Plurality Voting, but not by much. I certainly don’t support the latter and am glad to see we agree on its deleterious effects on elections. As the scientific basis for these statements, I suggest the research of Warren D. Smith exploring Bayesian Regret across a range of voting methods, ‘Range Voting’ (dated 2000-11-28).

                You may also find the Center for Election Science informative on the devolution of RCV/IRV systems into Plurality Voting and a variety of other discussions on the hard science behind their advocacy.

                I’m happy to see alternative voting methods gaining traction, but the further problems with RCV (e.g. Favorite Betrayal) and the fact that it is, regrettably, not capable of the same improvement potential as Approval Voting, leaves me unable to support it.

        2. Will they count those for ballot access? I wouldn’t bet on it.

      2. Look at it this way: The nonpartisan “primary” (“primary” only in the sense of first round, not party primary as we’ve come to know them) is to get rid of the candidates most voters can’t stand. It could just as well be called “disapproval voting”. Then the top two run off, which is likely to be a legitimate contest between two contenders. There might be some cases where a close third in the first round would’ve had a shot and gets gypped.

        Considering the usual lack of support for minor candidates, I don’t think “newer and third-party candidates” have anything to complain about in this. Their vote totals will look relatively better in the first round than they would have in an ordinary general election, because votes will be split (but not wasted) among the better-supported and they’ll still receive approval votes from among those who would’ve been wasting their votes to do so in a general election. In other words, as long as you’re looking to have a minor candidacy do its usual thing of being a protest, you’re golden, and if you were looking to turn it into a shot at winning, then you were a fool to begin with.

        1. I forgot the most important reason minor party candidates will do better: They won’t have that damning minor party label holding them back in conjunction with their name!

    3. Shhh. Janet Mills might hear.

    4. Ranked Choice Voting is 100% better than what we have. You just don’t get it. Our voting system sucks. It’s built to support the ruling class as it exists and to protect the one-party system that the ruling elite propagandistically refer to as a two-party system.

      OTOH, we’ve really been ruled by a shadow got since at least WWII so voting is more of a pacifier than anything else. Yes Matthew, believe it or not, there is a Deep State.

      1. Sorry – shadow govt – no way to edit these posts.

  4. “and so St. Louis voters will have two Democrats to choose from in the run-off in April.”

    So this works as intended.

    1. Sort of like most of California… (sigh)

    2. Damned if you do……damned if you don’t. If you are still living in St Louis you are probably so high it doesn’t matter anyways.

    3. It is working as intended. And while I can’t say, I will bet the… I have a hard time typing these words without spitting my drink all over my keyboard… Center for Election Science is a ‘grass roots’ organization that is targeting democratic districts to get this system implemented. In other words, they’re taking generally Democratic districts and cementing them as permanent one-party rule status.

      Again, I still contend this system doesn’t “only help Democrats”, I believe it helps whatever end of the political wing holds sway over the area. So if you implement this in a right-leaning district, the election outcomes will become more of center.

      1. Democrats tend to congregate together in concentrated lumps. Republicans tend to be more homogenous. Therefore Democrats have more absolute control of urban areas, while Republicans have more tenuous pluralities where they have nominal control. Generally, this will help the Democrats more.

        Reason’s writers seem to be intrigued by voting gimmicks that promise to give the LP a slightly larger blip on the electoral map while having profound consequences against having choices that matter in who actually wins elections.

      2. The majority of voters dissatisfied with the far ends of our binary spectrum are better served by a voting system that, rather than forcing polarization, moderates opinions into the realm of broadly acceptable positions.

  5. Can we just call this “Fuck You Voting”, since that’s what it really is?

    1. You’re responding to the article on Plurality Voting, which plays into the hands of a political duopoly that caters to small factions and ignores the consensus opinions of a majority of voters ?

  6. In the 1950s, St Louis was headed toward a population of 1 million people. Now, there are about 300,000 people. The St Louis murder and violent crime numbers eclipse those of every other violent city by a large margin. St Louis makes Chicago look safe.
    What happened?
    Progressive voting happened.

    1. The City of St. Louis long ago seceded from the County of St. Louis, with the state allowing it to be a charter city. That made short term sense back when the majority of the county was poor and rural. But the county grew up, became the ‘burbs, and became an attractive place to live. All of the violence is concentrated in a few square miles of north St. Louis city, which has a greatly reduced denominator (city population about 300,000), whereas the population of the metropolitan area is 3,000,000. As long as you know which 1% of the region to avoid, then it is as safe as any midwestern town.

      1. That’s not really true. The city itself prospered until the 1950s, which is when Democrats took over.

        That’s when people started moving to the county around it. White flight, essentially.

        But now, in the last 20 years or so, blacks have moved out of the city to St. Louis County, which caused it to flip to Democrat as well, and whites are moving back to the city. At least the urban hipster type. That’s why two progressives won. Although the top vote getter (and the likely winner) is actually part of a corrupt local political dynasty.

        1. Which one is a Hubbard?

      2. The city charter is odd and restrictive. I think it goes back to the French settlement. It prevented expansion thru annexation. When the post-WWII black migration took place, white flight hit hard and cities like Clayton were the beneficiaries. Over 100 municipalities sprang up just outside the city limits. They took the tax base with them and those burbs prospered as blight spread within the inner city. St Louis County should be St Louis city. That would reduce the inequality immensely. I think there was an effort to do something like that back in the ’70’s but it gained no traction because the burbs do not want to support the infrastructure they use in the core.

  7. The Center for Election Science

    Wait, what? They call themselves what? I developed a rule back in the 90s about how partisan organizations name themselves. This organization is to be dismissed out of hand.

    1. With the exception of `Computer Science`, if anything has `Science` in its name, it usually does not involve the Scientific Method. `Political Science` and `Social Science` are the two most obvious. In these two cases, it is not the fault of the practitioners, it is because it is not possible to apply the Scientific Method to Humans, as repeatable and independent experiments are impossible. An outfit with `Election Science` in its name is laughable.

      1. Mystery Science Theater 3k

        1. Which admitted it wasn’t scientific in its own theme song.

      2. Even Computer Science doesn’t really do any direct application of scientific method (I say this as a holder of a CS-adjacent degree, in Network Engineering)

        Also, Creation Science

    2. Now is the time to test your hypothesis by spending a few minutes reading from the thoughtful and well reasoned explanations backing up the rigorous mathematical study that underlies this voting method.

  8. Indeed, Jones and Spencer both ran as progressive reformers with a slate of typical urban left policy proposals. Hamlin notes that in the past, the two of them would end up splitting St. Louis’s vote, often along racial lines. Voters will still have to decide between the two of them in April, but they may be happier that a progressive is winning the nomination either way.

    The election reforms in St. Louis also stripped the race of partisan labels, but in reality three of the candidates were registered Democrats (including both Jones and Spencer) and one was a registered Republican.

    So based on what I interpret here, this is turning out exactly as I suspected it would: Districts which lean left will just turn harder left, districts which lean right will turn harder right.

  9. It’s been good seeing large democrat run cities get destroyed. They needed it. Oh not that democrats have any capability for self assessment or reality check. But fleeing voters may at least decide that voting for the left wing wasn’t such a good idea. One hopes.

  10. With the exception of `Computer Science`, if anything has `Science` in its name, it usually does not involve the Scientific Method. `Political Science` and `Social Science` are the two most obvious. In these two cases, it is not the fault of the practitioners, it is because it is not possible to apply the Scientific Method to Humans, as repeatable and independent experiments are impossible. An outfit with `Election Science` in its name is laughable.

  11. No red on the ballot? Guess it will just be the St Louis blues.

  12. Sounds like the fix is in.

  13. Third parties?
    This process will have a hard time getting two parties.
    Feature, not bug.

    1. You’re mixing up cause and effect. This is a result of the Republicans’ not having enough strength to make a respectable contest in a general election. The result was a problem for the Democrats, in that their primary field was too crowded to produce anything close to consensus.

  14. The thing is, the leading candidate is part of a crooked local political family. She might claim to be progressive, but all she cares about is looting the city for her own benefit.

    So there’s a good chance she would have won anyway, due to the local political machine and all…

    But with that said, it would have been a good thing if they had split the vote and the other Democrat had one. He actually had the backing of a local libertarian billionaire and wanted to privatize our local airport.

  15. Hiding the partisan affiliations of the candidates does not make an election “non-partisan”. It just obscures an important piece of information about candidates they may not have heard of from the apathetic in the electorate.

    “”One of the really big perks is that it captures support for newer and third-party candidates,” Hamlin says.”

    Will it help them win? Of course not, as can be seen from this result, it will only make a one party polity, more in the clutches of that one party. A runoff election between two members of one party is not a real choice.

    1. The elections we hold between members of only two parties don’t offer a real choice to the majority of voters. This is the case because of the plurality or first-past-the-post voting systems used in most elections. Approval Voting’s actual tally of votes for all candidates is the breakthrough parties like Libertarian need to demonstrate their support and get out from under the ‘spoiler’ label that actively harms their prospects.

    2. But is partisan affiliation information or disinformation? It means something on the ballot only to a voter who knows nothing else about the candidate. In that case, it’s just an opportunity for candidates to game the system, deciding who among the lowest information voters they want to appeal to, without actually having to say anything of substance.

    3. A runoff election between two members of one party is not a real choice.

      Is a general election with a guaranteed outcome (because one candidate has been selected from among those with a great many backers, and the other from among those with few) a real choice?

      And even if you think a runoff between two candidates who are competitive with each other isn’t a real choice because they both come from the same party, what’s your complaint, when you had the choice to vote from among all the candidates in the first round?

  16. Screw ‘approval voting’.

    I want ‘disapproval voting’.

    Until we can vote on who we don’t want as well as who we do want, we’re fucked.

  17. Approval voting seems like a pretty good idea, but not during the public primary process, only after parties have already unified their ideological factions’ support behind single candidates, then use approval voting or ranked choice to select from those candidates.

  18. “St. Louis voters cast 25,000 more votes for their next mayor than there were ballots cast. ”
    St. Louis voters cast 25,000 more votes for the next president than there were ballots cast.

    There. Fixed it.

  19. Makes perfect sense in a democrat controlled city. You can be any race, sex or other characteristic but you only get to vote your choice of like thinking liberal candidates.

    1. Democrats were not the only choice in this or any other Approval Voting election that has taken place in this country since Fargo first implemented the methodology.

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