Eastpointe voters may decide in the November 2021 general election whether they want the city to reinstate a mayoral primary.

Eastpointe voters may decide in the November 2021 general election whether they want the city to reinstate a mayoral primary.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

Eastpointe council makes decisions on future of local elections

Mayoral primary may go up for a vote, ranked-choice voting to expire after 2021 election

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published April 28, 2021


EASTPOINTE — Eastpointe voters may see some shake-ups in the way that local elections are conducted after the November 2021 general election.

The Eastpointe City Council voted at its regular meeting April 6 for the city attorney to draft a measure for the November ballot to ask if residents would like a primary in the race for mayor. Additionally, the council voted to not put a similar measure on the ballot to see if residents would like ranked-choice voting to continue in City Council races.

“They did not go forward with ranked-choice voting at this point. However, they did instruct the city attorney to craft language that may go on the November ballot for having a primary for the mayor,” said City Manager Elke Doom. “(The mayoral primary) wouldn’t take effect until 2023 if it were approved by voters. It would function where, if there were more than two people running, then there’s a primary. If there are only two people running, there wouldn’t be a primary. It would have to go to a vote of the people to take effect, though. It is not a decision that the council can approve on their own.”

The mayoral primary was eliminated in 2010 due to a perceived lack of need for one at the time.

Ranked-choice voting was instituted in 2019 after an order by the United States Department of Justice. It was put in place due to findings by the DOJ that there was a disproportionate chance for minorities to be represented by traditional voting in the city. It is set to expire after the November 2021 race for City Council, which will see two seats up for grabs.

“Ranked-choice voting will not keep going,” said Doom. “As part of the Department of Justice agreement with Eastpointe, we would have elections with ranked-choice voting only through November of this year. We cannot — without involving the Department of Justice — have ranked-choice voting after that. … Ranked-choice voting actually can’t happen right now in the state of Michigan without a Department of Justice order.”

After its expiration, it could not be continued according to Michigan law, even if residents want it to, unless very particular circumstances were met.

“There are two different ways ranked-choice voting could continue in Eastpointe,” explained City Attorney Richard Albright. “If the Michigan Legislature changed the current election laws in the state to permit ranked-choice voting, it could be continued. The other way is if the current consent decree entered into with the Department of Justice was extended by agreement between the Department of Justice and the Eastpointe City Council with an approval by a federal judge.”

Councilman Cardi DeMonaco and Councilwoman Sarah Lucido voted to put a measure regarding the community’s desire to continue using ranked-choice voting on the November ballot. They were voted down by Mayor Monique Owens, Councilman Harvey Curley and Councilwoman Sylvia Moore.

A measure asking residents if they want a mayoral primary in Eastpointe was approved by City Council to appear on the November ballot, pending approval of ballot language. Lucido, Curley, Moore and DeMonaco voted to approve the measure, while Owens dissented.

“The vote put the mayoral primary on the ballot up to a vote this November. We thought that, since we had primaries all the time, it would be possible to have them again,” said Curley. “When I ran in 1988, we still had them. I think everyone would have a better chance to become a choice for voters with a primary.”

Curley said he is very much opposed to ranked-choice voting.

“For ranked-choice voting, I personally am not in favor of the measure. I think it isn’t one-person, one-vote. I haven’t gotten one call from anyone in the city who likes it. I wouldn’t want it on the ballot if it were allowed. I just don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “We will have two seats up for election this November. You have to vote for the second person in the second column, instead of getting to vote for your two top candidates. That second vote could go toward someone who you don’t even like if they don’t proceed to the next round.”

DeMonaco also supported the motion to have a mayoral primary, but he said that he might change his stance on the issue, since he saw it as a good way to balance out ranked-choice voting for the City Council and that will not be continuing.

“For the mayor’s race, ideally, I would like it to be ranked-choice also, but that’s not an option with Michigan election law. I thought that a primary would be a good idea, since it would be inconsistent to have essentially a primary with the City Council with ranked-choice voting, but I’m not sure it would make sense to have a primary for the mayor’s race and not the City Council, so I may change my vote.”

He believes ranked-choice voting is a benefit to the city and increases the ways voters can make their voices heard in elections.

“I am a big fan of ranked-choice voting. I think it is a way to empower the voter and give you the most opportunity to vote for who you want to vote for. It’s like a primary and a general election in one day. You can still vote for a candidate who doesn’t really have a chance to win and still have your vote count. I think it’s also good for campaigning since you can ask people to vote for you if they already had a first choice.”

His hope to put the question on the ballot was to gauge interest from Eastpointe residents to see if they would like ranked-choice to return in the future, if an avenue to do so ever opens up.

“I was hoping to extend the decree from the Department of Justice. I thought a question on the ballot would be a good way to judge how the community felt about ranked-choice voting. I know quite a few people who like it and quite a few who don’t.”

Lucido supported putting both measures up to a vote for residents.

“I voted in favor of adding the ballot question to bring back the mayoral primary,” she said. “I would have liked to see it with both council and mayor, but there wasn’t support for that. We’ve seen such an increase of candidates in recent elections, I think it would be an improvement. It was originally moved for financial reasons, and it wasn’t a big deal since there weren’t a lot of candidates running at the time. I think it will help.”

She said the decision should go to the voters who would actually be casting the ballots in each of the races.

“I voted in support to add a measure to the ballot asking residents if they wanted to ask to continue ranked-choice voting,” Lucido said. “I think having the voters’ opinion about asking the Department of Justice whether we can continue (doing) it should come from the voters.”

Moore also said listening to the voice of the people was what determined her votes on both matters.

“I voted yes on putting the mayoral primary on the ballot. When it comes to how I voted, my vote was to let the people decide the matter. I listen to residents and hear what they have to say about issues we have to address. I make my decisions off of that,” Moore explained. “With ranked-choice voting, I voted no because I listened to residents and they seemed to unanimously not want ranked-choice voting.”

Owens said the ranked-choice decision ended up being counterproductive in her opinion due to it not being well understood by voters.

“I felt like the Department of Justice came into Eastpointe because they saw voter suppression, but I feel like ranked-choice voting decreased voter turnout because they didn’t understand it. It’s my understanding that almost 5,000 people who voted in the last election didn’t have their votes count because they didn’t understand it. It sounds more like voter suppression than what it was ostensibly put in place to stop.”

Owens said she voted against the addition of a mayoral primary because she sees the problems of a primary outweighing any benefits.

“Eliminating the mayoral primary was supposed to save the city money,” she said. “(Additionally), most minority groups don’t come out during odd-year elections. Why would you add another election in which people of color don’t come out to? My election (to mayor) came during an odd-year, and then we had a big turnout in 2020; now it seems like we have people trying to find ways to change the laws just as progress is being made. Five people ran in the last election without a primary.”

As things stand now, Eastpointe will have the chance to have a mayoral primary again but will be bidding goodbye to ranked-choice voting.

“If people like ranked-choice voting, they would have to take action at the state level,” said Doom. “Our state doesn’t allow it right now, so, for example, Ferndale has brought forth an initiative stating that residents are interested in ranked-choice voting. So if the state of Michigan passed legislation to allow ranked-choice voting, Ferndale could go straight to using it in their community because their residents have already said that, if it was available to them in the future, this is the way we would like to go.”