Missouri politicians put a trick measure on the November ballot to silence your voice | Opinion

Have you ever been told you didn’t need to read the fine print? Ever been given a document with paragraphs of text in a tiny typeface, and told not to worry about what it said?

Reading the fine print can be important not just in your personal life, but also when voting. This year, the Missouri General Assembly passed a deceptive measure that could actually make it harder for us to hold our leaders accountable. You will see this measure on your November ballot, claiming that it stops noncitizens from voting — even though that has been illegal for a century. It’s an unnecessary and misleading proposal, but without Missourians reading the fine print, it may very well pass — based on a lie.

Buried in this misleading language is the heart of the amendment: hurting local control by attacking your freedom to decide what type of elections you want in your city or county.

Most governments use an outdated voting system that is much less representative than the one you use in everyday life. Politicians like it that way, because it makes it harder to hold them responsible. But more and more governments have created elections that do a better job at holding politicians accountable. One of the simplest examples is called “pick-all-you-like” or approval voting: When voters go to the ballots, they can choose any number of candidates they support, rather than being forced to settle on one option.

This is how we all make daily decisions. When you want to schedule a dinner with your family, you might say you’re free on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, not just for one day out of the week. Selecting all options you are content with helps people to cooperate, rather than going to dinner only on Sunday because a small minority of 37% selected it, while 63% were split between Friday and Saturday.

Approval voting also makes politicians answer directly to the people. As Missouri business leader and Square co-founder Jim McKelvey says, in an approval voting system, “leaders are rewarded for acting as collaborative problem-solvers. Since voters can choose more than one candidate, politicians are incentivized to engage the entire electorate, not just the small faction they previously had to win over.”

Approval voting’s success is also backed by evidence. Both the American Mathematical Society and the American Statistical Association use approval voting to elect their own leaders. Right here in Missouri, approval voting has helped find solutions to challenging issues. The 2023 race for St. Louis’ 9th Ward alderman saw two incumbents running in a combined district against neighborhood leader and first-time candidate Michael Browning. While the incumbents took opposing stances on the race’s key issue, development policy, Browning presented a bridge between the two. One incumbent advocated for public subsidies to private developers that some felt were overly generous, while the other had been stalling development that many St. Louisans felt would be beneficial. Browning’s development plan, which found common ground between developers, neighborhoods and the city, led to his victory. And approval voting played a key role.

Under a traditional “pick-one” voting system, many voters often feel as if they have to choose between the existing politicians, writing off political newcomers and leading to a more polarized outcome. In this St. Louis race, Approval voting enabled voters who may have had allegiance to either of the incumbents to also express their approval for Browning, resulting in a more unified and representative result.

Unfortunately, the legislature’s trick measure in November would take away your choice to hold leaders accountable by hiding what’s really on the ballot. It’s a deceptive attack on local control. It’s shifting power away from the people of Missouri who shouldn’t have to see through tricks to make the choices they want in the voting booth. Because of the measure’s sneaky leading line, the results this November won’t likely be representative of Missourians’ actual beliefs about election systems.

It’s important to recognize that Missourians may support approval or ranked-choice voting (which is similar but distinct), but this measure deliberately tries to show the opposite by muddying the water. If you want to hold politicians accountable with better elections, then when you go to vote, keep in mind that this trick measure is an attempt to take your freedom away.

Benjamin D. Singer is chief executive officer of Show Me Integrity, Missouri’s nationally award-winning political reform organization. The board of the organization includes Republicans, Democrats and independents advocating for more effective, ethical government. Learn more at showmeintegrity.org