Ranked-choice voting passed in three cities, but Michigan law prohibits it
- East Lansing, Royal Oak and Kalamazoo voters support ranked-choice voting, which lets them rank multiple candidates
- Implementation of the system would require a change in state law
- Ann Arbor and Ferndale passed similar measures in previous years
Voters in East Lansing, Kalamazoo and Royal Oak passed proposals Tuesday to change the cities’ voting systems to ranked-choice voting, a system that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.
Supporters of ranked-choice voting (RCV) say it better reflects majority sentiment in races with many candidates. Opponents argue that it confuses voters and complicates the voting process.
Even though the RCV measures passed Tuesday, they will have no effect until Lansing lawmakers allow RCV to be used in the state.
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Under the system, if a single candidate doesn’t win 50 percent of votes, the candidate with the least first place votes is automatically eliminated. Ballots are recounted, and the second place votes of people who voted for the eliminated candidate are redistributed among the remaining candidates. The process continues until one candidate achieves a majority of votes and is declared the winner.
In East Lansing, ranked choice voting won by 52.5 percent of votes, by 51 percent of the vote in Royal Oak and 71 percent in Kalamazoo.
According to Michigan's Home Rule City Act and state election laws, local governments are currently prohibited from using the RCV voting system.
Voters in East Lansing, Royal Oak and Kalamazoo join those in Ann Arbor who passed a similar proposal in 2021 and Ferndale, which passed another in 2004.
Eastpoint implemented ranked-choice voting to fill city council seats in 2019, part of a settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department. The lawsuit alleged the Voting Rights Act had been violated, citing that a Black candidate had never won a local election although Black residents make up over 40 percent of the city’s population.
Previously, Democratic representatives including Reps. Regina Weiss, Oak Park, Abraham Aiyash, Hamtramck; Stephanie Young, Detroit; Helena Scott, Detroit; Felecia Brabec, Pittsfield Township and Ranjeev Puri, Canton, among others, introduced a package that would allow local entities to implement ranked-choice voting for city offices.
The bill, introduced under a Republican majority in the legislature, died in committee. At the time, Republicans were more focused on trying to make stricter voter ID laws.
Several places across the country have adopted the RCV system in recent years including New York City which began implementing it in 2021 and Alaska where the system has been used since 2022 for state and federal general elections.
According to a report by Unite American Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, there was a 58 percent increase in Alaskans casting a vote compared to 2020 before the ranked-choice voting system was implemented. The state had the third highest participation in the primary election that same year.
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