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Failure to Implement Instant Runoff Voting, Despite Passage in 2004, Highlighted in Current Ferndale Mayoral Election and Article

October 2nd, 2013 by Howard Ditkoff

Back in 2003 and 2004, I was almost obsessively focused on advocating for election reform. Specifically, I was focused on advocating for the implementation of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

Many people who knew me back in 2003 and 2004 heard endlessly from me about the wonders of IRV. I even traveled to Washington, D.C. for a conference put on by the Center for Voting and Democracy, now known as Fairvote, to learn more about how to be a better advocate for election reform.

This culminated in a campaign that I helped coordinate, and in which Fairvote helped support us, to pass a ballot proposal in Ferndale, Michigan to use Instant Runoff Voting in their elections for the mayor and city council. You can learn all about that campaign at the website we created during it, which is still available to help educate the public.

The ballot proposal, which was Proposal B on the November 2, 2004 ballot, passed with an almost 70% majority in Ferndale.

Instant Runoff Voting is an election system with many benefits, which you can read about at my page dedicated to the subject. But one of the main benefits is that it helps eliminate the “spoiler effect,” a problem that occurs in certain elections when more than two candidates run for the same office.

The spoiler effect is especially problematic when multiple candidates that share similar views run simultaneously, since they can end up splitting the votes of people that like both or all of them, allowing a person that most people actually do not like to win the election. In a situation like that, IRV is a fantastic solution – a solution we hoped Ferndale would have in place if it ever found itself in such a circumstance.

Well it is now 2013 and guess what. Back in August, I came across an article explaining that Ferndale finds itself with an upcoming mayoral election featuring more than two candidates. Not only that, but two of the candidates – former mayor Craig Covey and current mayor Dave Coulter – share extremely similar views, platforms and constituencies (not to mention sexualities, which, perhaps sadly, is the focus of that particular article). The situation is ripe for a “spoiler effect.” But, luckily IRV was passed in Ferndale almost a decade ago so this election won’t be spoiled…right?

Well, no. You see, when Proposal B passed back in 2004, there was a catch built in. City officials were worried about the cost and energy that would be required to actually implement the new election system, which requires voting machines capable of carrying it out, so they wrote into the city charter language stipulating that, even if the proposal passed, the system would only actually be implemented when they found it efficient and cost-effective to do so. Unfortunately, in almost 9 years, they have not found it so. So now Ferndale faces this highly “spoilable” election still without the election system that nearly 70% of its voters asked for and that could have saved it from this mess. And, ironically, one of the candidates who could be “spoiled” is Craig Covey who actually endorsed Proposal B during our campaign.

After talking with some people about the situation, we decided to contact Rob Richie, the Executive Director of Fairvote, and get them involved in a fact-finding mission to learn more about exactly why IRV has still not been implemented in Ferndale so as to determine how we might re-engage in our advocacy and finish the job we started back in 2004.

But, before Fairvote could even start that work, I was contacted and interviewed by Crystal Proxmire, a writer for a local paper in Ferndale. She said she was writing an article about the situation. And it turns out that, in the process of writing her article, she had already done much of the investigative work that Fairvote had been planning on doing.

Crystal’s article is entitled “IRV: What’s Missing from Ferndale’s Election” and it was just published a few days ago in a couple of places, including:

I recommend people who are interested read it because Crystal has done a great job of bringing us up to date about the various sides of this story that once played such a large part in my life and has now resurfaced.

I’m told another article on the subject may be written for the Detroit Free Press soon. If that article does come out, I’ll update this post with the link here.

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