Missouri Secretary of State Ashcroft wants non-partisan local elections to become partisan


Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft believes turnout in local Missouri elections would be better if they were partisan.

In the 2020 presidential election, voter turnout in Missouri was 70%, a stark contrast to non-partisan municipal elections in the state which can see as few as 10% of voters go to the polls. That’s why Ashcroft is considering a measure to narrow that gap, asking candidates for local offices to choose a party.

“Local government can be more important in people’s day-to-day lives than at state and federal levels,” Ashcroft said, adding that it is not good that big decisions about people’s day-to-day lives are determined by the outcome of the elections with so few people showing up to the polls.

“If we were to make some of these supporters, we’re not trying to make them more combative, would that help more people get out?” Does calling them non-partisan make people think they aren’t important? “

Such a decision would require legislation and would likely be the subject of fierce debate. But the idea is already not appealing to some election officials, officials and voting experts.

One objection is the possibility of discouraging people from running for public office.

“Say I want to run to the local school board,” said Anita Manion, professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “But for me, it’s not a partisan issue. For me, it is about strengthening our education system and not alienating oneself from neighbors who belong to another political party.

Rolla City Councilor Jody Eberly is an example of a candidate who would be put off by the prospect of being forced to choose a party.

“I can tell you that I probably wouldn’t be running,” Eberly said. “Over the past couple of years things have gotten so resentful and bitter and polarized that I think there are a lot of good people out there who just wouldn’t want to be involved in it.”

Rolla saw the 2021 municipal election turnout at 12%, up from 15% in 2020.

Eberly said it is ultimately the responsibility of local election candidates to walk through neighborhoods and encourage people to run for local elections. She wants more people to vote, but says making them partisan is not the way to achieve that, and she has allies among election advocates.

“There are better ways to increase voter turnout,” said Marilyn McLeod, President of Missouri League of Women Voters. “A simple would be like we did a year ago during COVID, where we made mail-in ballots more widely available, and people really liked that. “

McLeod said that before the state considers a drastic change like eliminating non-partisan elections, it should first make sure it’s as easy as possible to vote.

No excuse mail-in ballots, early voting and more mailing options are proven to increase voter turnout, Manion said.

But she said there might be a way to get the turnout in a partisan election without forcing city and school board candidates to choose a party, by combining their elections.

“So instead of voting five times in Missouri, you maybe vote once a year. These things have been shown to have much more of an effect on voter turnout than anything like making elections more partisan, ”Manion said.

But even this has criticism. If the state, federal, county, city, school board, and other races were all on the same ballot, and all with different district lines, it could mean that each constituency may have to offer dozens of different ballots.

“The number of divisions or different voting styles that these constituencies would have to create would, in my opinion, lead to more confusion among voters, and it would create an undue burden on the electoral authority in these areas,” said the clerk. from Pulaski County, Dave Ernst.

Political parties can see this proposal as a great way to build a pipeline of candidates for higher positions.

“It would certainly clarify which party a city council member belongs to, and they would have the experience of running for office with the support of their party,” Manion said.

Jonathan ahl

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft in 2020 meeting in Rolla with local election officials

Ashcroft’s idea is far from reality, as it cannot even be presented as a possible change in law until the legislature meets in January.

He said it deserves consideration and could be a way to encourage diversity in political thought instead of just another race between Republicans and Democrats.

“You can run as a green, libertarian candidate, you can be a constitutional candidate. People of all those ran. Especially in local races, individuals and small groups are more likely to be successful, ”said Ashcroft.

But regardless, the decision to change the local elections would rest with the state legislature, a group of Republicans and Democrats who were all elected through partisan elections.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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