How Do We Improve Municipal Elections in Missouri?
There is a proposal in St. Louis County to make the county-level offices (and campaigns) nonpartisan. The sponsor argues that because much of what local government does is generally not partisan (he is right about that), we should remove the party labels from local offices.
I think this is a very bad idea. In this specific example, St. Louis County Council districts are large (roughly 140,000 people) and the party label, like it or not, gives voters a significant cue as to which candidate suits their preferences. The idea behind nonpartisan elections seems to be that without a party label, voters will do additional research to determine their votes. This study convincingly argues that that idea is incorrect.
I didn’t agree with Proposition D in the City of St. Louis for the very same reasons.
I am not calling for every suburban city council or school board to suddenly become partisan. However, I think taking currently partisan races and making them nonpartisan (especially for races with many voters) is going to reduce voter information, not enhance it. Nonpartisan campaigns can be captured by special interests just as easily as partisan races—perhaps even more so—as has frequently happened with fire districts in Missouri.
I understand the desire behind the suggestion here, but taking partisan races and making them nonpartisan will, in this instance and many others, make choices more difficult for the average voter. I believe that is the wrong direction to go in.