Editorial Roundup: Missouri

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 6, 2024.

Editorial: Missouri GOP just can’t stop trying to deny the voters their say

Missouri voters on Nov. 5 will be given the choice to limit their own electoral choices. Also, to outlaw a form of voting that’s already illegal and virtually never happens.

Leave it to the Legislature’s Republican supermajority to waste the voters’ time with this kind of cynical, ideologically loaded nonsense on the ballot. The referendum to outlaw ranked-choice voting — and re-outlaw voting by illegal migrants — deserves a summary slap-down by the state’s voters this fall.

Lawmakers last month approved putting the referendum on the ballot that will ask Missourians to outlaw ranked-choice voting in future elections. It carves out exceptions for St. Louis and other places where some form of it is already in use.

The referendum will also contain a line rightly derided as “ballot candy,” specifying that non-citizens cannot legally vote in Missouri elections. More on that in a moment.

Ranked-choice systems, increasingly popular around the country, are a way to ensure that, in a wide field of candidates, someone doesn’t win with less than a majority of the votes.

Here’s how it generally works: Voters in a given election, instead of being limited to voting for one candidate, can pick as many as they want, ranking them in order of preference.

If the initial vote doesn’t produce a majority winner based on voters’ first-ranked preferences, the lowest vote-getter is dropped from the list and the votes are automatically re-tallied. The second-ranked choices of those who voted for the dropped candidate gets those votes. The process continues until someone breaks 50%.

(St. Louis’ version is a little different — and a lot more cumbersome — allowing people to vote in a nonpartisan primary for multiple candidates, but not ranking them, then conducting a runoff election between the two top vote-getters.)

Yes, it all can sound a little confusing. But no one’s forcing the process onto any local or state electoral jurisdiction. The referendum put forth by the Legislature is entirely pre-emptive, taking away voters’ theoretical choice to do this in the future if they want.

Just in case Missouri voters turn out not to be eager to cut off their own future options regarding elections, lawmakers added the aforementioned “ballot candy” regarding non-citizen voting, which they clearly hope will rile up the xenophobes in their base.

We’re going to spell this out again, in the plainest language possible. Please read carefully:

It’s already illegal, right now, for non-citizens to vote in Missouri elections.

Further, there’s been no evidence of any significant attempt by non-citizens to vote in any Missouri election.

In terms of solving an actual problem of either ambiguous statutes or real-world electoral practices, they might as well specify on the referendum that toddlers, family pets and houseplants can’t vote, either. That’s how irrelevant the non-citizen passage is — except as electoral bait for all the seething culture warriors out there.

Voters shouldn’t fall for the candy — nor for the pre-emptive strike on electoral options. There are valid arguments to be made for and against ranked-choice voting. But there’s no valid argument for depriving future citizens of the right to implement such a system if and when they decide that’s what they want.

What is with the GOP’s aversion today to giving voters choices?

First, Republican state officials tried to sabotage the effort to put abortion rights on the ballot this year with underhanded procedural stunts. Then they tried to change the voting process to make it almost impossible for voters to pass that or any other constitutional amendment.

Now they’re trying to cut off even the possibility that voters might choose to adopt an electoral method that, in some jurisdictions where it has been used, has been shown to favor moderate candidates and work against hyper-partisan ideologues.

Which, given the radicalized nature of today’s GOP politicians, may in fact be the whole point.