Voters in Eastpointe on Tuesday will rank candidates instead of choosing just one due to a 2017 United States Justice Department lawsuit alleging white voters weakened the voting power of African Americans in city council races.
Eastpointe will be the first Michigan city to use ranked-choice voting (RCV) to determine city council seats.
The Eastpointe City Council agreed for the city to implement RCV to represent all voter groups more accurately.
“This agreement reflects the Department’s resolute commitment to vigorous enforcement of the Voting Rights Act to protect the right to vote in all elections,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division said in a June press release.
President and CEO Rob Richie of FairVote.org, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization focused on electoral reforms, told The Center Square that RCV gives voters more options and ensures their vote counts, even if their most preferred candidate is eliminated from the race.
Richie said the RCV system allows voters to rank their preferred candidates from first to fourth preference.
Candidates that earn a majority of first choices, over the one-third “threshold of representation,” win, Richie said.
The most-preferred candidate votes are counted first. The candidate with the fewest first-place rankings is eliminated, and those ballots count for the voter’s next choice.
“Ranked-choice gives voters a backup. That’s what the rankings are. You cast your first choice, but you have a second choice,” Richie said. “Your ballot goes to your second choice if your first choice doesn’t help that person win.”
If no candidate hits that target, Richie said, the process continues until two candidates win, with slightly more than 33.3 percent voters.
These extra options allow voters to rank beyond one vote, Richie said, and voters could compare three of four candidate’s stances on issues.
“But also, with Ranked-Choice Voting, it’s not like you have to vote on racial lines, it’s what your preference is,” Richie said, adding that’s how different parts of the community are better-represented.
Richie said RCV is somewhat less disruptive to the community because it gives voters more choices, compared to single-member districts that could have formed with the intent to help a particular group of people.
“That’s what it’s all about," Richie said. "Options."
Richie said this system could influence how candidates run their campaigns because candidates compete for voters’ second-choice spot.
“It sort of extends the value of conversation and interaction, and learning about the voters you’re going to represent,” Richie said. “That second-choice may be the difference between winning and losing.”
Richie said that voter turnout significantly impacts the voting outcome.
City Council member Sarah Lucido told The Center Square that RCV hasn't been used very often in multiple-seat elections, adding that she doesn’t yet have an opinion on the system.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see how it turns out in the end,” Lucido said.
The city of Ferndale voted to use the the RCV system in 2004, Lucido said, but was blocked by the state.
Fairvote.org says 11 cities use RCV, including St. Paul, Minnesota, San Francisco, and Portland, Maine.