FERNDALE CITY COUNCIL VOTES UNANIMOUSLY TO DRAFT POTENTIAL BALLOT LANGUAGE, SEEK COST ESTIMATES FOR INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING SYSTEM
POSSIBLE VOTE REGARDING CHARTER AMENDMENT PROPOSAL NEXT MONTH
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEFERNDALE CITY COUNCIL VOTES UNANIMOUSLY TO DRAFT POTENTIAL BALLOT LANGUAGE, SEEK COST ESTIMATES FOR INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING SYSTEM
Contact by phone: Howard Ditkoff at 248-968-9995
Tom Trescott at 248-336-9241
Contact by email: email@example.com
POSSIBLE VOTE REGARDING CHARTER AMENDMENT PROPOSAL NEXT MONTH
June 14, 2004 - Ferndale - At its bi-weekly meeting, Ferndale's City Council was asked by Ferndale for Instant Runoff Voting (F-IRV), a ballot question committee registered in the State of Michigan, to consider placing a proposal on the November 2004 ballot to amend the city's charter, implementing Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) in future mayoral elections. 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.
F-IRV members Howard Ditkoff and Tom Trescott presented the group's case to the Council and expressed the group's strong desire to work with them and Ferndale's Election Commission to answer all concerns regarding the prospect of implementing the new system. The Council expressed its desire for further information regarding the legalities of the potential charter amendment, and the cost and logistics of the required voting machine software upgrade necessary for usage of IRV. The meeting concluded with the Council voting 5-0 on a three-part motion put forth by Councilmember Scott Galloway authorizing:
The City Attorney and City Clerk were authorized to report back to council in one month with their findings. At that time, according to City Attorney Dan Christ, if Council approves either of the alternative ballot language versions he provides, the language would then be forwarded to Michigan's Attorney General's and Governor's offices for approval, after which Ferndale's voters would make their decision on the issue in November. In addition, F-IRV is considering whether to launch a referendum drive to ensure that if the proposal is not placed on the ballot by the City Council, it can instead be placed directly on the ballot by their group. Such a step would require F-IRV to obtain roughly 850 signatures from resident registered voters.
- "The City Attorney to review the materials provided by Ferndale for Instant Runoff Voting and draft proposed amendment options to allow for Instant Runoff Voting in the City of Ferndale, and to draft ballot language for Council to review regarding Instant Runoff Voting with flexibility for both mayoral and Council elections."
- "That the City Administration meet with the Secretary of State."
- "That the City Administration and City Clerk speak with vendors and the County Clerk regarding equipment available currently for purchase."
Council's vote followed a lengthy discussion during which many Ferndale residents, as well as members of the Council itself, spoke strongly of the potential benefits of Instant Runoff Voting. Councilmember Helen Marie Weber explained, "Something that draws attention to voting and the importance of voting is very significant and if we have an election - and this could easily happen - where there's three candidates and none of them have 50%, they're not even having a majority of the people voting for them. But this is a mechanism to work better for democracy." She concluded, "So I think moving ahead with this applying it to the mayoral race the next year is something in the interest of our community."
Councilmember Scott Galloway offered similarly positive comments, stating "I've given this a lot of thought since you folks [F-IRV] started coming before Council and made me aware of it. I've spoken with some people today whose opinion I very much respect. I'm now convinced that at least we ought to give voters the opportunity to adopt this method of elections in the city of Ferndale."
Ferndale resident Edward Hicock urged the Council to consider IRV in a mathematical, rather than a partisan, fashion. "The main point of it is to get a true representation of what a community wants...It's kind of like a playoff series. A lot of our sporting teams go through a playoff series. You get to the end and you have a final winner," Hicock said.
Several comments focused on the potential for IRV to help increase Ferndale's dismal voter turnout [less than 20% in November 2003's election]. When one audience member questioned the benefits of the system, Mayor Robert Porter responded, "...you'll find that most of the European nations use IRV and the reason they do that is they get a higher turnout in voting in the 80-90% ranges where we're coming in with 20% and unfortunately not necessarily representing our people. That's why it's worth looking at." Porter explained that his own research on areas that use IRV showed "dramatic increases in the voting because people felt that their vote had the opportunity to count."
One Ferndale resident that knows a great deal about how dramatically IRV can affect voter turnout is Kevin Deegan-Krause, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wayne State University. Deegan-Krause has spent his career studying voting systems throughout the world, and explained to the Council that IRV - also known as alternative vote - raises voter turnout at least 10-15% in countries where it is used when compared with the "first-past-the-post" system currently used in most American elections. "It has a lot of positive advantages, it gets a better representation of the community's views, and it gets more people out to vote," Deegan-Krause told the Council.
The other issue around which many comments centered was the potential cost of implementing the new system. One resident questioned whether Ferndale should even assume the cost of pursuing more information and drafting potential ballot language. Councilmember Galloway responded, "It's the opinion of this Councilman...that this is worth looking into. We make our decisions always cognizant of costs, but I think something that enhances participation in elections is worth looking into and if it costs several hundred dollars I think it's worth it. I don't think it will cost several thousand, but if it does and it increases our voter participation from 20% to over 50%, I think it's worth it. I think that's a small price to pay. So in my view it's worth investigating and it's worth in my opinion probably putting on the ballot for voters to vote up or down."
In an additional response that elicited applause from the audience, Councilmember Craig Covey declared "There's talk about how much this will cost and I don't know if anyone can put a price on democracy."
Ferndale resident Matt Weiser, who recently moved from Oak Park, attended with friends from other cities in Michigan and expressed their hopes that not only would Ferndale adopt the system, but that it would spread to neighboring cities. F-IRV shares those hopes and maintains a list of local contacts in Michigan interested in exploring Instant Runoff Voting in their communities. That list is available at http://www.firv.org/inyourtown.html.
Ferndale for Instant Runoff Voting coordinator Howard Ditkoff concluded the discussion by explaining, "IRV is not a partisan issue and we've provided the Council with evidence of members of all major parties - Libertarian, Democrat, Green and Republican - who support Instant Runoff Voting, so it is not any one party that is in favor of this system." He offered F-IRV's assistance in obtaining any more information necessary to help Council make their decision.
Interested readers can learn more, endorse, volunteer or donate easily online at: http://www.firv.org
For more information on Instant Runoff Voting, visit http://www.fairvote.org/irv
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