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Ann Arbor election reform proposal would allow voters to rank candidates on ballot

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ANN ARBOR, MI -- Ann Arbor voters could be asked in November to OK a city...



ANN ARBOR, MI — Ann Arbor voters could be asked in November to OK a city charter proposal to switch to ranked-choice voting for city elections.

That would allow voters in future city elections to rank their choices for mayor and City Council in order of preference, with a process of elimination to weed out the least-supported candidates until there’s a winner with a majority of votes.

Mayor Christopher Taylor and Council Members Zachary Ackerman and Julie Grand are sponsoring the proposal on City Council’s agenda Thursday night, Aug. 6.

If approved by council, it will head to the Nov. 3 ballot for city voters to decide.

The ballot proposal reads as follows: “Shall the charter be amended to provide that the mayor and City Council members are to be nominated and elected by a ranked-choice voting method in the event that state law allows for it?”

There’s legislation pending in the Michigan House of Representatives to allow municipalities to adopt ranked-choice voting for election of local officers.

If Ann Arbor voters approve a city charter change in November and the state legislation is enacted, the city could switch to ranked-choice voting for the 2022 election in which there will be contests for mayor and five council seats.

Grand gave her colleagues a heads up at the July 20 council meeting she would be bringing forward the proposal.

“I believe it has a lot of support in the community. It increases participation and it’s more democratic,” she said.

The proposed resolution lays out the process that would be followed to declare winners in city primary and general elections for mayor and council races.

Under ranked-choice voting, it’s not enough for a candidate to just get the most votes — they must get a majority to win. So, a candidate in a three-way race, for example, couldn’t win with 40% of the vote if their opponents evenly split the other 60%.

Instead of just voting for one candidate, voters would rank their choices in each race.

If a candidate received a majority of the first-choice votes, they immediately would be declared the winner.

But if no candidate received a majority of the first-choice votes, the candidate who received the least first-choice votes would be eliminated and each vote cast for them would be transferred to the voters’ next-preferred candidate.

Depending on the number of candidates and how votes split, that process of elimination could go multiple rounds until there’s a candidate with a majority of votes.

Watch these videos explaining how it works:

A group called Rank MI Vote held a series of town halls across the state earlier this year to promote ranked-choice voting.

People typically say it allows them to vote their will and that their vote won’t be wasted, Ron Zimmerman, Rank MI Vote’s director of live outreach, said earlier this year, calling it “something that really gives people more voice.”

It ensures similar candidates in a race can’t split the vote or “spoil” the election, and candidates with the best ideas, not the most money, have a fair shot, the group argues.

Grand noted there are three-way contests in three of five Ann Arbor council races in Tuesday’s primary. In future cases like that, Grand said, ranked-choice voting could help avoid situations where two candidates aligned on issues such as housing density or climate change receive a majority of the votes but still lose because they split the vote, giving the seat to someone who doesn’t best represent the ward.

“We want someone who’s going to be representative of the ward,” Grand said.

Another benefit of ranked-choice voting, she said, is that two candidates who are aligned on issues in a three-way race could work together and encourage their supporters to rank the other as their second choice, resulting in a more pleasant experience and candidates tearing each other down less.

If the city’s vote tabulators can’t feasibly accommodate ranked choices equal to the total number of candidates running for each office, the city would limit the number of choices a voter could rank to no fewer than three, according to the proposal.

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