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Tomorrow, as you might have heard, is Election Day. At this point, after countless attack ads, a series of debates, and the spewing of billions of words in Internet ink, there is probably nothing I can say that you haven't already heard about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The same is probably true of Claire McCaskill and Todd Akin.
So in this, the not-really-official-at-all St. Louis Magazine voters guide, I'm going to focus on some of the amendments and propositions that you'll find on your ballot, which you might have heard (at least a little bit) less about. It's a shame that media don't spend more time talking about these initiatives (they tend to be less quotable), because in many ways, they are the most important part of the ballot. When you elect a candidate for office, you hope that he or she will support the legislation that you would support. But with a ballot proposition, you can cut out the middle man. You decide the law. It's a rare instance of direct democracy in our representative system. Which is all to say, you would be wise to consider these ballot initiatives carefully. They will have a much more immediate impact on your life than either McCaskill or Akin.
Constitutional Amendment No. 3 (Missouri)
What it says: Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the current nonpartisan selection of supreme court and court of appeals judges to a process that gives the governor increased authority to appoint a majority of the commission that selects these court nominees; and appoint all lawyers to the commission by removing the requirement that the governor's appointees be nonlawyers?
What it means: This amendment would change Missouri's nonpartisan system for picking judges to a more political process. The current system, known as the Missouri Plan, has been in effect since the 1940s and is, as the ads say, a "model for the nation." When a court has a vacancy, an independent commission of experts gives the governor three potential judges, from which he chooses one. Amendment three would give the governor the power to appoint the majority of that panel of experts, which would essentially give him complete control of the process.
What I think: Vote no. Even the people who put this amendment on the ballot no longer support it. For anyone who is sick of the lack of compromise and dearth of reasonable solutions in our country's two-party system, (and that includes just about all of us, am I right?), Missouri's nonpartisan court system is a godsend. Judges should be impartial arbiters, not political activists. Let's keep them that way.
Proposition A (Missouri)
What it says: Shall Missouri law be amended to allow any city not within a county (the City of St. Louis) the option of transferring certain obligations and control of the city's police force from the board of police commissioners currently appointed by the governor to the city and establishing a municipal police force; establish certain procedures and requirements for governing such a municipal police force including residency, rank, salary, benefits, insurance, and pension; and prohibit retaliation against any employee of such municipal police force who reports conduct believed to be illegal to a superior, government agency, or the press?
What it means: The wording on these initiatives can often be confusing, and this is no exception. In short, this initiative would transfer control of the metropolitan police department from the state to the city.
What I think: Vote yes. The city should never have lost control of its police force in the first place, and it's unfair that city voters don't currently have more say in the administration of their own public safety. There is no guarantee that a locally controlled police force will be more successful at preventing crime. But at least it would be ours.
Proposition B (Missouri)
What it says: Shall Missouri law be amended to create the Health and Education Trust Fund with proceeds of a tax of $0.0365 per cigarette and 25% of the manufacturer's invoice price for roll-your-own tobacco and 15% for other tobacco products; use Fund proceeds to reduce and prevent tobacco use and for elementary, secondary, college, and university public school funding; and increase the amount that certain tobacco product manufacturers must maintain in their escrow accounts, to pay judgments or settlements, before any funds in escrow can be refunded to the tobacco product manufacturer and create bonding requirements for these manufacturers?
What it means: This proposition would increase cigarette taxes with the money going to prevent tobacco use and fund schools. Currently, Missouri has the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation. Supporters estimate the tax would generate between $283 million and $423 million in additional revenues.
What I think: Vote yes. People are going to smoke anyway, so we might as well take some of their money to pay for schools. It certainly would be a bonus if the increased price and prevention programs combined to convince a few folks to quit smoking.
Proposition E (Missouri)
What it says: Shall Missouri law be amended to prohibit the Governor or any state agency, from establishing or operating state-based health insurance exchanges unless authorized by a vote of the people or by the legislature?
What it means: Actually, nothing. This proposition is essentially a publicity stunt by people who oppose "Obamacare."
What I think: Vote no. Even if you hate Obamacare, and I know that most of you do, this proposition really does nothing to repeal or even weaken that federal legislation. In fact, it does nothing at all, because the governor already lacks the authority to create a state health insurance exchange without the consent of the legislature. (If the state doesn't create one, the federal government will do so for them, as part of the Affordable Care Act.) But even if the outcome is practically irrelevant, you should still vote no, because the ballot is the wrong place for publicity stunts.
Proposition R (City of St. Louis)
What is says: Shall the Charter of the City of St. Louis be amended in accordance with the Board of Aldermen Amendment Ordinance?
What it means: A copy of that Board of Aldermen Amendment Ordinance will be available at your polling place. It has various components, but the central provision is reducing the Board of Aldermen from 28 to 14. The measure needs 60 percent approval to pass.
What I think: Vote yes. As our own Alvin Reid has argued, the board's number is out of whack with the city's shrinking population. A reduction might draw more serious candidates and make the wards a bit less provincial, with each alderman focused on the city as a whole, rather than his or her own turf.
Proposition S (St. Louis County)
What it says: Shall the Board of Education of the Special School District of St. Louis County, be authorized to increase the operating tax levy to fund education for children with disabilities, expand job training and placement, improve safety, and repair, expand, furnish and equip schools, and rebuild one school, which funds shall be audited annually, buy $0.19 per $100.00 assessed valuation? If this proposition is approved, the adjusted operating levy of the District is estimated to be $1.19 per $100.00 assessed valuation.
What it means: A pretty standard school levy. Your property taxes would go up; the school would have more money.
What I think: Vote yes. How can you say no to the children with disabilities? A strong society is built on strong schools.
Proposition L (St. Louis County)
What it says: For the purpose of renovating and replacing aging facilities, enhancing children's spaces and youth, adult and senior programs, constructing, improving, operating and maintaining facilities of St. Louis County Library District, and acquiring necessary property, shall the $0.20 per hundred dollars assessed valuation tax for the Library District be increased to $0.26 per hundred dollars assessed valuation?
What it means: Another straightforward tax initiative. A yes vote separates you from a bit of your money and gives it to the library.
What I think: Vote yes. The county has a pretty awesome library system. Pitch in a few bucks to help keep it that way.
Follow my suggestions (and solve all of the world's problems) or don't. But whatever you do, vote. It's a privilege but also, in my view, a responsibility. Take it seriously.