By Rebecca Rivas, The St. Louis American
Eighteen polling places in St. Louis County are co-located within a police station – effectively discouraging any resident with an outstanding warrant from walking in, giving his or her name and address, and voting, according to Better Together’s recent study.
“It’s important to realize that when we’re talking about warrants, we’re very often talking about someone who was simply unable to pay a traffic fine or a citation for a code violation and missed a court date,” said Dave Leipholtz, director of Community-Based Studies for Better Together.
There are currently 450,000 warrants stemming from the region’s 52,000 municipal ordinances.
“Warrants are so prolific that 27 municipalities in St. Louis County have accrued more outstanding warrants than they have residents,” he said. “This disproportionately impacts municipalities with large populations of African-Americans and the poor.”
Following the report, the Missouri NAACP State Conference and the St. Louis County NAACP branch released a statement that they are “deeply concerned” about the impact of polling places in municipal police departments.
“Having polling places inside of police departments is yet an additional obstacle in the way of African Americans seeking to exercise their constitutional right,” said Esther Haywood, St. Louis County NAACP president and former Missouri state representative.
Haywood said voters should not be afraid of being toted to jail for exercising their constitutional right.
“A hurdle, such as the location of polling places in police departments, is far too similar to an unofficial Jim Crow Law,” she said.
The St. Louis County NAACP has written a letter to the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners requesting that all polling places in St. Louis County located at police departments be relocated immediately.
The report is the fourth and final study from Better Together that shows a strong correlation between the region’s fragmented structure and the disengagement of citizens. In fact, Better Together reports that the rate of participation in local government is far lower than national averages.
In the most recent municipal election, only 9.41 percent of the voting-age population cast a ballot – compared with the national average of 21 percent participation in local elections.
While proponents of fragmentation claim that this is the structure residents want, the new Better Together study suggests otherwise. A review of the processes for incorporating and disincorporating shows that historically it’s been easier to incorporate than to disincorporate a city.
For example, the village of Champ was founded in 1959 upon one man’s vision to build an Olympic-quality stadium and an industrial park. Those plans never came to fruition, but 57 years later Champ still exists, with a population of 13.
The study argues that disincorporation, on the other hand, is arduous. In villages and fourth-class cities, a disincorporation proposal can only go on the ballot following a petition of one-half of the city’s voters, and then the proposal must garner 60 percent of the votes in order to pass.
Remarkably, there is no process at all for disincorporation of a third-class city. Wellston is one such city. Over the past several years, it has been plagued with a variety of issues ranging from the mayor stealing city employee paychecks to physical altercations between police officials. Yet, even if the citizens of Wellston organized to meet the high threshold needed in other towns, they would not be able to vote on dissolving their city government.
The Better Together report makes several recommendations for lowering the civic cost of fragmentation.
First, municipal elections should be moved from April to the November ballot, thereby producing greater turnout and taxpayer savings. Additionally, the 18 polling places co-located with police stations should be moved, and the 21st Circuit should call for a review of all outstanding municipal warrants. Finally, citizens must be truly empowered to have their governments reflect what they want. In order to meet this objective, there must be a clear pathway toward disincorporation.
To read the report in full, visit www.bettertogetherstl.com/generaladministration.