Next Tuesday, voters in Blackwater will decide whether to hold elections for mayor and the board of aldermen when there are the same number of candidates as open seats.
The measure, known as a “non-election election,” would allow the city of fewer than 200 residents to skip its municipal election if there are no contested seats. There has not been a contested race for Blackwater Mayor or Board of Alderman since before 2015, according to election records.
The elected government includes Mayor Shelby Dee Hendrix and Aldermen Wayne Gerard, Jr., Marc Miller, Richard Wilson and Tanner Fahrendorf. That hasn’t changed since City Clerk Randi Jo Blank took her role in 2016. Other people don’t seem to have a lot of interest in running for those seats, she said.
Non-election elections have been more common for special taxing districts, like fire and levee districts, said Missouri Municipal League Executive Director Richard Sheets. The Missouri General Assembly originally only allowed special districts to make that move but included cities with populations under 1,000 in 2014.
Then-Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the 2014 bill that allowed municipalities to hold non-election elections, because he believed it took away voters’ power to elect someone through write-in ballots. That power is especially important when voters learn something negative about the candidate after the deadline to file and before the election, and small communities are where write-in candidates are most likely to succeed, Nixon wrote in his veto message.
The assembly voted to pass the bill over Nixon’s veto, and it became law. Another change in 2018 made cities with as many as 2,000 residents eligible.
The argument for not holding uncontested elections is to save on unnecessary expenses, Sheets said. Municipal elections aren’t a huge cost to Blackwater. It paid the Cooper County Clerk $221.33 for the last April election, and the county paid the city $55 to rent out one of its buildings as a polling place, Blank said. If it didn’t hold an election, the city would have saved $166.33.
The non-election elections aren’t a common tool for special taxing districts, and they’re even less common in municipal elections because cities are higher profile and typically have more people interested in running, Sheets said.
The measure has to be re-approved by voters every six years, so if it passes in August, Blackwater voters will see the issue again in 2025. Voters in Otterville and Pilot Grove approved the measure in 2015, so they will vote on it again in 2021. Prairie Home voters rejected the measure in 2015. Boonville is too large to enact the measure.