Changes could be coming to the local election process if Rep. Ben Baker (District 160) has his way.
Baker, whose district is located in southwest Missouri, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 920, which if passed and signed into law by the governor, would move local municipal elections from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in April to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The November date is traditionally when statewide and national elections are held.
Locally, the St. Peters Board of Aldermen, the O’Fallon City Council and the Weldon Spring Board of Aldermen have all unanimously passed resolutions urging state representatives and state senators to vote against HB 920. Copies of those resolutions will be sent to the governor, leaders of the House and Senate, plus representatives and senators for districts containing those cities.
The Dardenne Prairie Board of Aldermen will vote on a similar resolution at its May 5 meeting. The Cottleville Board of Aldermen plans to address an HB 920 opposition resolution on May 19.
Based on comments made in the St. Peters Board of Aldermen meeting on April 22, HB 920 is being discussed widely by the Missouri Municipal League and its members. So, it is likely many cities statewide will address this in some way in the near future.
One reason proponents give for wanting the election day change is their belief that some entities use the traditionally low voter turnout for April elections to pass large bond issues and tax increases. In Missouri, turnouts by county generally range between 10% to 20% for April elections and 55% to 75% for November elections.
An example is the April 6, 2021, vote for O’Fallon’s new home water main insurance program, on the ballot as Proposition W. Of the 62,082 voters registered in O’Fallon, only 7,816 voted on the proposition, according to the St. Charles County Election Authority. Proposition W passed with 63.97% of the vote, which equates to only 8.1% of O’Fallon’s registered voters passing the proposition and its resulting new tax.
Another reason proponents say they want the change is to ensure candidates for elective office face more voters in elections.
An example is the April 6, 2021, vote for O’Fallon’s mayor. Of the 62,082 voters registered in O’Fallon, only 7,887 voted for the five candidates. Incumbent Mayor Bill Hennessy won with 4,190 votes, or 53.13% of votes cast. However, Hennessy’s 4,190 votes represent only 6.7% of registered voters in O’Fallon. The 7,887 total votes cast for all five candidates represent only 12.7% of registered voters.
HB 920 proponents believe traditionally higher November voter turnouts will result in election results more representative of total registered voters. They also believe eliminating the April election will save taxpayer money.
Opponents of the bill believe that local voters are able to focus better on local issues and on candidates for mayor, city council and boards of aldermen when those are voted on during local municipal elections in April, uncluttered by numerous other votes about statewide or national matters.
Opponents believe elections about local candidates for city offices and city issues are mostly non-partisan, especially compared to November statewide and national elections. They believe voters are more informed about the local issues if partisanship is reduced and election communications are focused on local matters.
Opponents believe voters will have “ballot fatigue” if national, statewide and local candidates and issues are combined into one, long ballot. They believe voters will be less prepared and knowledgeable with so many choices at one time.
Opponents also point to familiarity as a positive, noting that voters are accustomed to local issues being in April elections.