In a typical year, 10 or fewer ballot measures are included in Missouri elections while many more are certified for circulation. The documents known as “initiative petitions” must be approved by the secretary of state and the attorney general.
A 100 word or less summary must be approved by the attorney general before becoming an official ballot title. The state auditor also prepares a statement of the fiscal impact the measure would have on the state.
Once circulated, an initiative petition must receive the signature of registered voters equal to eight percent of ballots cast in the 2016 governor’s election in six of the state’s eight U.S. congressional districts.
One ballot title now being circulated in the public is the brain child of Winston Apple, a retired high school teacher from Independence. Apple ran for lieutenant governor in last year’s primary election as a Democrat.
His proposal for next year’s ballot would rearrange the state legislature and alter the election process. First, the number of state representatives would be reduced from 163 to 80, with 10 per congressional district.
Perhaps the most significant change would be that candidates would be competing for district wide seats. Currently, state House members represent much smaller sectors of the public amounting to roughly 30,000 people.
Further, Missouri state Senators would no longer have districts, but would run in statewide elections. With 17 of the state’s 34 Senators running for election every two years, Apple contends a candidate could win a seat with just under 6 percent of the vote.
Primary elections for state House and Senate would result in an ordered list of candidates for each office. In the general election, a voter would cast a ballot for one political party’s ordered list.
Finally, the proportion of votes received per political party would determine the candidates elected from each party’s list, in the order on the list.
If a district voted 60% for Republican candidates, the GOP candidates with the six highest vote totals would win election. If the state voted 60% for Republican Senate candidates, the GOP would control 60% of the upper chamber’s seats.
If a district had a 65%-35% composition, voter turnout would play a key role in determining whether the party with the voting edge would elect six or seven of its candidates.
Apple calls the changes his offering would make to the voting process “proportional representation”. He contends the current single member district with a winner take all system is flawed.
“If you are a Democrat living anywhere other than Kansas City or St. Louis, you’re not very well represented in Missouri” said Apple. “And if you’re a Republican living in the first or fifth district in St. Louis or Kansas City, you’re not very well represented.”
A Pew research poll taken in May of 2016 showed the largest percentage of American voters identified as Independents (39%) followed by Democrats (32%) and then Republicans (23%).
Apple claims that under proportional representation, the parties would have to do a better job of attracting voters because there would be more choices than Republicans or Democrats.
“If you don’t do a good job of addressing the problems we face in representing the needs of everyone, promoting, the general welfare to quote the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, then you’re not going to get as many seats and these third parties would start to make major inroads.”
Much has been written about the ugliness of last year’s Republican governor’s primary in Missouri, where four candidates demonized each other before Eric Greitens emerged as the nominee. The general election for governor saw a record $54 million spent.
Apple thinks elections have been reduced to mudslinging followed by endless fund raising and advertising. He says campaign tactics would massively change for the better with proportional representation.
“What we’d have instead is a very dynamic primary campaign within each party followed by a campaign focused on issues and the problems we face, and which party’s candidates have the best solutions to those problems.”
He claims the ordered list of party candidates from which a voter would cast a ballot in the general election would be instrumental in changing the complexion of elections.
“The big, big payoff in the general election is you’re focused on the party and its platform.”
If Apple’s proposal were adopted in Missouri, state government legislative operating costs costs could decrease nearly $7 million. However, state and local governments could incur unknown election related costs.
Apple has approximately 11 months to collect the necessary signatures to get the initiative placed on the November 2018 ballot.