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Eastpointe to host educational meeting on ranked-choice voting

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published August 13, 2019

EASTPOINTE — Eastpointe is planning several educational programs to assist residents in understanding ranked-choice voting, which recently was implemented by the city in its City Council elections.

Eastpointe will be the first municipality in Michigan to use such a voting methodology on any of its ballots. Two representatives from the FairVote, an electoral reform nonprofit, will lead a community meeting to explain the intricacies of the new system at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, at Eastpointe City Hall, 23200 Gratiot Ave. The event is free to attend and no registration is required.

“These meetings are meant to educate people on the differences of ranked-choice voting and answer any questions they may have,” Eastpointe Assistant City Manager Brian Fairbrother said. “Eastpointe now has its final list of candidates for the City Council election. Two candidates of the four will win. People don’t vote for just one or two, they rank the candidates in the order they would like to see elected.”

Pedro Hernandez, the senior policy coordinator at FairVote, will be one of the individuals leading the Aug. 15 meeting and said ranked-choice voting isn’t particularly complicated, but many voters can feel lost or intimidated when encountering such a change.

The core mechanic of ranked-choice voting is that each voter ranks the candidates from most preferred to least preferred instead of selecting a top choice. In the upcoming City Council election in November, for instance, four candidates are running for two seats. Instead of picking the top two candidates, voters will rank them between one and four.

Votes are counted until one of the candidates is confirmed to have received an amount more than any other candidate has. First, first-ranked votes are counted. If the threshold is not reached, then second-ranked votes are counted, and then the third-ranked votes if no candidate still hasn’t reached the threshold. 

“When you elect someone, the threshold is half plus one to pick a winner, because it’s impossible for more than one to have that many votes,” said Hernandez. “That threshold goes down if more than one candidate is elected in the same race. For two (candidates), it would be one-third plus one, which, again, would be impossible for more than two to have that many votes.”

If that sounds confusing, Hernadez said that is why this meeting is being offered.

“It can sound complicated, but our goal is to simplify it all with these meetings and answer any questions people might still have,” he said. “We really want to come in and make sure the community has every opportunity to understand the system. We want voters to be informed.”

The implementation of ranked-choice voting in Eastpointe was put in place following litigation with the United States Department of Justice after the department said minority candidates in the city were less likely to get elected due to the traditional at-large voting system in City Council elections. Hernandez said ranked-choice voting should allow more voters to see a candidate they support get elected.

“The most important thing for people to know is that it will be about introducing the ballot to voters, so they get used to ranking candidates instead of picking your top two,” explained Hernandez. “It should allow more voters to have representation; by using rankings, you raise the chance someone you like will be elected, where even if your first choice doesn’t win, your second choice might.”

City officials want to give residents every opportunity to have their questions or concerns about the new system addressed. They also want to stress that this change will only affect Eastpointe City Council elections, and not any other races, including that for mayor.

“We want to stress that ranked-choice voting, which also is known as instant run-off voting, will be put in use for City Council elections, but traditional voting will still be used in the mayoral and other elections on the ballot,” Fairbrother said. “Knowledge is power, and it’s always a good idea to understand who we are electing and how they are being elected. This town hall will be a great way to do so.”

“I hope that this is an opportunity for Eastpointe residents to get first-hand instruction on how to vote using ranked-choice voting,” Mayor Suzanne Pixley said in an email. “I would like to invite all residents to attend this instructional training.” 

Call Staff Writer Brendan Losinski at (586) 498-1068.