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Waiting for the Ferguson Grand Jury: After the Election

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch

While we’re waiting for the St. Louis County grand jury to weigh in on the matter of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, there’s been lots of preparations being made by activists, the police (at all levels), businesses, and residents of Ferguson in particular and the St. Louis metro area more generally. It’s important to keep the whole metro area in mind, because this is a metropolitan problem in St. Louis that just happened to flare up in Ferguson.

As evidence, let me direct you to the recent election. The St. Louis County election board released the township-by-township election data for the November election, and there are some very interesting things buried in the results. In keeping with their very strong local coverage, St. Louis Public Radio had a nice writeup of these results, where they note that Bob McCulloch (a Dem) ran unopposed for County Prosecutor and thus his race wasn’t very interesting in their eyes. The lead race for their story was for County Executive (kind of the county mayor), where the GOP candidate (Rick Stream) was a state legislator from South County and the Democrat (Steve Stenger) was the longtime 6th district County Councilman also from South County. In the Democratic primary in August just before Michael Brown was shot, Stenger beat the African-American incumbent county executive in an ugly race. After the shooting, the bad feelings around Stenger only got worse. Stenger is a longtime ally of Bob McCulloch, and refused to call for him to step aside as many in Ferguson and elsewhere were asking.

In St. Louis County politics, north county is reliably Democratic, south county and west county are reliably GOP, and the central and northwest townships tend to swing. (The same holds true in the city of St. Louis, which is not part of the county due to old racial battles.) St. Louis Public Radio noted that while Stenger won, he lost most of his own council district and only won because of north county — but even there, his margins were not as large as those that Democratic candidates in prior years were able to rack up. IOW, under ordinary circumstances, Stenger should have won by a much larger margin.

St Louis Public Radio has some nice graphics, where you can scroll over maps of the county to see the breakdown of the election results in each township. One very interesting item that their otherwise very good reporters missed, though, were the write-in numbers.

In Stenger v Stream, six of the townships — Ferguson and four others in north county, and University township in the center of the county [home to Washington University] — had write-in totals over 5% of what the two main candidates received. Ferguson and two others were over 7%. Three other north county townships and one northwest township had totals between 1% and 3%. Overall, north county plus University had write-in totals of 4.7% The other 18 townships had a mere 0.23% write-in rate. That’s one-twentieth of the north county rate. That’s some serious anger toward Stenger on the part of Democrats, due to both his taking on the incumbent African-American in the primary and also for his support of McCulloch after Brown was shot.

Even more interesting were the write-in numbers for McCulloch’s race.

In north county, write-in numbers were amazingly high. In Norwood (mostly African-American and just south of Ferguson), 18.45% wrote in someone else, in Normandy (more heavily African-American and just south of Norwood) it was 17.35%, and in Ferguson it was 16.03%. Two other north county townships were around 15%, University township was 13.28%, and the three other north county townships averaged just over 8%. Taken together, 12.42% of north county and University township voters wrote in someone else. That’s one in every eight voters. One in eight.

Elsewhere in the county, write-ins were only 2.71% — about one in thirty-six voters — and only one township had more than 5% write-ins (6.02% in a northwest township). The others ranged between 1.4% and 4.4%.

Overall, just under 5% of the county voters — one in twenty — wrote in someone other than McCulloch.

If you want evidence of the level of disgust with McCulloch (hard enough to spill over into the Stenger/Stream race), these write-in numbers will show it to you. The number of protesters in the streets is relatively small compared with the population of north county, but the numbers that went to the trouble of writing in someone other than McCulloch or (even more strongly) Stenger show that the community anger is a lot deeper than the number of protesters.

Between the primary fight against an African-American incumbent and the frustration over McCulloch’s handling of the Darren Wilson investigation in particular and his relationship with the African-American community more generally, the write-in numbers paint an ugly picture if you are the county prosecutor or the incoming county executive.

These numbers point to serious distrust, frustration, and/or anger by a significant segment of St. Louis County toward the prosecutor in charge of putting the evidence in front of the grand jury. With numbers like these, I can understand why people in charge are nervous about what may happen when the grand jury makes its decision.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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