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Contact by phone: Howard Ditkoff at 248-968-9995
Tom Trescott at 248-336-9241

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Ferndale, MI – August 9, 2004 – At it's bi-weekly meeting, the Ferndale City Council voted 3-2 to approve the placement of a charter amendment proposal regarding Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) on the November 2004 ballot. The language will be forwarded to Michigan's Attorney General's and Governor's offices for approval, after which Ferndale's voters will make their decision on the issue in November. The amendment, if passed, would implement IRV for both mayoral and City Council elections, pending the availability and purchase of compatible software and approval of the equipment by the Ferndale Election Commission.

The request for placement of the measure on the ballot was spearheaded by Ferndale for Instant Runoff Voting (F-IRV), a ballot question committee. F-IRV had requested that IRV be placed on the ballot for use in mayoral races only. However, at its June 14, 2004 meeting, the Council, of its own accord, directed City Attorney Dan Christ to draft a proposal regarding the implementation of IRV for both mayoral and City Council races, as well. At tonight's meeting, Council voted 5-0 to consider the proposal regarding both races in lieu of that regarding simply mayoral races. They then went on to approve the placement of that proposal on the ballot by a vote of 3-2.

Instant Runoff Voting is a simple to use, full-choice voting system whereby, when three or more candidates run for a single seat, voters are allowed to rank the candidates 1-2-3, etc. rather than simply choose their one favorite candidate. If no candidate wins a majority of votes on the first count, the last place candidate is eliminated, and then all ballots are counted again with each counting for the highest ranked candidate still in contention. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of the votes and is declared the winner. In a multiple seat race, the process is similar, however winners would be required to obtain a quota that is determined by the number of seats up for election. For instance, if candidates are running for two seats, votes would be counted and redistributed until two candidates each have greater than 33% of the vote.

IRV eliminates the “spoiler” problem, whereby a candidate who cannot win themselves gets enough votes to throw the election to some other candidate who is favored by a minority. This problem gained national attention in the 2000 presidential election when Ralph Nader received more votes in some states than the difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore's totals, potentially swinging the election to Bush. However, “spoiler” incidents have also occurred in many other races including the 1992 presidential election (where Ross Perot “spoiled the election for George Bush, Sr.) and Michigan's 2002 attorney general's race (where Green candidate Jerry Kaufman “spoiled” Democrat Gary Peters). In addition, IRV encourages more candidates to run for office, promotes positive issue-based campaigns, and is likely to increase voter turnout.

City Manager Tom Barwin stated that, while equipment has already been certified for usage of IRV in San Francisco's city elections this November, it may be a year before such equipment will be available for testing and certification here in Michigan. According to City Clerk Karen Pedro, Ferndale plans to buy new voting hardware at some point in 2005. Until IRV-compatible software for these machines is purchased and approved the Ferndale's Election Commission, elections will continue to be held in a plurality format, whereby those candidates with the highest number of votes win regardless of whether they receive majority support. Once the software is purchased and approved, IRV would immediately be implemented and no further authorization from the Council would be required.

At the meeting, several members of Council and Ferndale residents gave their thoughts on the proposal:
  • Councilman Scott Galloway said he planned to support the resolution because it addressed two of his major concerns. Since IRV would only be implemented upon purchase of the equipment, there would be no mandate to immediately spend an unreasonable amount of money on software before the city was prepared to do so. Furthermore, by implementing IRV for both mayoral and City Council elections, rather than only for mayoral races, this proposal helps avoid the difficulties of having two different voting systems in use during the same election. Galloway also stated that he felt IRV would actually prove more important in City Council races than in mayoral ones.

  • Mayor Robert Porter stated “I myself looked at this and said it's done something very positive in other areas. It's stimulated an 80, 85% voter turnout where we're struggling with 17 and 18% voter turnout in our city. So Council decided to review it.”

  • Kevin Deegan-Krause, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wayne State University, has spent his career studying voting systems throughout the world. Deegan-Krause explained the efficient use of IRV in nations such as Ireland, Australia and Malta. He said that IRV with single seat elections is remarkably simple and is only slightly more complicated in multiple seat races. He said that it assures that each side of the political spectrum is well represented so that the city government reflects the makeup of the city's population itself.

  • F-IRV member Tom Trescott stated his personal support for the extension of IRV to apply to Council races, in addition to mayoral races. He mentioned that due to splitting of the vote, he felt that the 40% of Ferndale that is conservative was underrepresented on the Council. Trescott said, “IRV can resolve that problem and provide for minority representation and that's important to me because I'm here for democracy and I'm not here for my own party or my own agenda.”
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