WU students participate in St. Louis city mayoral primary through voting and advocacy
Engagement of eligible voters in the St. Louis City mayoral primary was just 22.12%, with 44,538 people casting 69,607 votes using the new “approval voting” system, March 2.
Approval voting, a process that is popular among election reform advocates, allows voters to select multiple choices for each issue or position being voted on in the election. St. Louis is only the second city to adopt this system, following Fargo, North Dakota. The election reform passed in November through Proposition D, which also allows candidates from the same party to run against each other in the general election. As a result, two Democrats will face each other in the general municipal election on April 6: Tishaura Jones and Cara Spencer.
Several of the most prominent issues on the ballot involved public safety, economic recovery, public health, COVID-19 and vaccine rollouts, Theresa Kouo, associate director for civic engagement at the Gephardt Institute, said.
Campus organizations like Gephardt and WashU Votes have historically collaborated to encourage turnout for national elections. However, increasing numbers of students are becoming involved in local elections as well.
“In the past, it would sort of dissipate after the presidential election, but we’ve seen continued engagement and energy because people recognize that if you want change, it really starts hyperlocally,” Kouo said. “We’re seeing a lot more [students] changing their voting addresses to be able to vote here in St. Louis. I’ll be interested to see what the trend is after, and if it continues to be this way, year after year.”
While there is an uptick in local election involvement, in contrast to the November election, there were very few Washington University students at the polling stations for the mayoral primary. Few University students were eligible to vote in the city primary because undergraduates living on campus are in St. Louis County.
The city-county boundary line primarily runs down Skinker Blvd., but for students living off campus in the Lofts and in Everly, the line runs down their hallway.
Juniors Spencer Williams and Emily Angstreich voted at Old Des Peres School, citing their discontent with current mayor Lyda Krewson as motivation. Krewson announced in Nov. 2019 that she would not be seeking re-election.
“I have not been happy with some of the stuff Lyda Krewson has been doing,” Williams said. “But Tishaura Jones is really exciting, and especially I’m hopeful that she could be elected because Cori Bush was successful after being an activist for a while and active in the community.”
Angstreich was also critical of Krewson. “I think that she, especially this summer, really did not rise to meet the moment of all the Black Lives Matter protests happening and definitely took steps that were really counterproductive and that hurt people,” Angstreich said.
Both Williams and Angstreich found the approval voting process useful, but they noted that the ability to vote for more than one candidate presented challenges.
“Tishaura Jones is by far our top choice, so we thought about voting for Cara Spencer maybe as a second choice at one point,” Williams said. “But then we got worried about if Cara Spencer has the most votes but then Tishaura is very close with somebody else who’s running [who] we don’t like as much? We don’t want to have issues with there being a second place tie or something like that.”
While Williams and Angstreich were pleased to see Tishaura Jones advance to the general election, some University students were not as pleased with the outcome of the primary.
“I am disappointed with the result, and what I hope for is that Andrew stays involved in the St. Louis community,” College Republicans President Mattias Mayesh said.
Because St. Louis has historically elected Democrats, mayoral primaries have long determined the election results. With the new approval voting process, the April election will be more competitive because both candidates are Democrats, Kouo said.
To ensure lasting engagement, WashU Votes is trying to “change the narrative” about local elections to enhance awareness about their importance, WashU Votes Co-Chair sophomore Otto Brown said.
“Don’t forget about your local politicians and your local elected leaders, because they have a lot of sway in terms of how tax dollars are used, in terms of education, budgeting and things like that,” Brown said. “Making sure that people are aware that these things are going on has been a theme for us.”
People are often unaware that local elections are approaching, so WashU Votes has been utilizing social media to boost visibility. “Civic engagement is not something that you do every four years,” Brown said. “It’s something that you do all the time and it’s something that’s always going on. And it’s really important to participate in, especially because we’re Wash. U. in St. Louis, and for St. Louis. And that means taking part in local life, local politics, local civic engagement, at all times of the year.”
In conjunction with this message, the Gephardt Institute is organizing an event to keep students updated about the issues confronting the next mayor. “We’re not looking at candidates specifically, but we’re going to be looking at different issues that the mayor, whoever wins, might be faced with,” Kouo said.
For students who want to vote in the April 6 general election, the registration deadline is March 10. They can view a sample ballot on the St. Louis County Board of Elections website.