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Make The Choice for More Choices: Vote Yes on Proposal B, Instant Runoff Voting in Ferndale on November 2

My article urging Ferndale residents to vote Yes on Proposal B, an election reform measure that I worked on through a group called Ferndale for Instant Runoff Voting that I coordinated. Proposal B was a proposal to implement Instant Runoff Voting in Ferndale for mayoral and City Council races. This article was published in the October, 2004 issue of Jam Rag, Detroit's Metro Music Magazine.

Make The Choice for More Choices: Vote Yes on Proposal B, Instant Runoff Voting in Ferndale on November 2


Howard Ditkoff


Ferndale Residents for Instant Runoff Voting (F-IRV)
and Michigan Focus on Reforming Elections (M-FORE)

As published in the October, 2004 issue of Jam Rag, Detroit's Metro Music Magazine.

On November 2, 2004, Ferndale residents will make a momentous choice. Of course, the choice in this year's presidential election is a profound one with enormous consequences. However, I am referring to another choice that must not be overlooked in the wake of the battle for the White House. It is a choice to plant a seed that, in time, will strengthen democracy itself, adding power to every voter's voice and improving the quality of choices available to us on future ballots.

That seed is contained in Proposal B on Ferndale's November ballot, which would open the door for the future use of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) to elect the mayor and City Council. The measure has been championed locally by Ferndale for Instant Runoff Voting (F-IRV), a ballot question committee. However, this group is far from alone in its vision of IRV as a democracy-improving measure whose time has come.

Among those who share this view are national leaders (Senator John McCain, Democratic Presidential candidates Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich), major media outlets (USA Today) and members of all major political parties (Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians). Locally, IRV has been endorsed by Mayor Robert Porter, Councilman Craig Covey, Councilwoman Helen Marie Weber, journalist Jack Lessenberry and groups such as the Alliance for Democracy of Metro Detroit, Michigan Election Reform Coalition, Triangle Foundation and Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM). Ferndale's IRV movement has also been featured prominently in news outlets including The Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The Mirror and The Daily Tribune.

The Ferndale City Council approved the placement of Proposal B, a charter amendment proposal, on the ballot at its August 9, 2004 meeting. If passed, it 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.

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.

In contrast to the current system, this simple change in the method of counting ballots leads to numerous benefits. IRV has been shown to increase voter turnout, since voters are allowed to express their complete set of preferences and thus feel empowered. It encourages more candidates to run for office and promotes positive issue-based campaigns, discouraging mudslinging among candidates who must compete for second and third-place votes from each others' supporters.

But the benefit that has brought the reform into the spotlight is its ability to eliminate the “spoiler” problem. This refers to the circumstance in which a candidate who cannot win him or herself receives enough votes to throw the election to some other candidate who is favored by a minority.

The “spoiler” 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).

By requiring that winners receive a majority of votes, IRV fixes the flaw in our election system that allows for spoiled elections. By allowing voters to express their full slate of preferences, rather than only their top choices, it eliminates the “a-vote-for-Nader-is-a-vote-for-Bush” scenario, freeing voters to vote their hopes without fear of helping their least favorite candidate. This allows for a far more accurate depiction of the electorate's desires and sends elected officials into office with a true mandate from the people.

It is because of these benefits that Robert's Rules of Order says that IRV “makes possible a more representative result than under a rule that a plurality shall elect” and “…this type of preferential ballot is preferable to an election by plurality…” It is because of these benefits that Congress, nearly 20 states, and many cities and university student governments have recently considered or adopted Instant Runoff Voting-related legislation. It is also for these reasons that the Irish elect their president, Australia elects its House of Representatives, and London chooses its mayor using IRV. In fact, even the American Political Science Association itself uses IRV to elect its president!

This November, San Francisco will use Instant Runoff Voting in its city elections and already residents there have noted the improved tone of campaigns. Ferndale should follow suit and institute this system to improve its elections and serve as a positive example for cities throughout Michigan and the nation considering this reform.

In recent elections, Ferndale has experienced one of the lowest voter turnout rates of any city in Oakland County. In the November, 2003 election, over 80% of registered voters failed to vote. In a 2002 election, over 76% didn't vote. And in one 2000 election, a whopping 92% stayed home from the polls.

It's time to make a fundamental change that will re-engage Ferndale's voters and give them a real reason to come out to the polls again. It's time to implement a system that will ensure that Ferndale's mayor and City Council will always represent the true desires of the populace and not the flawed outcome of an election “spoiled” by the splitting of votes between two or more liberal or conservative candidates.

So as you make your decision on Commander-in-Chief, take some time to also think about the quality of choices you want open to you in future elections. If you want to see more and better choices, more positive campaigns, to feel free to vote your hopes rather than your fears, and to be represented by elected officials who enjoy majority support, then get a lawn sign, pass out some literature, make some phone calls, talk to friends and neighbors, and vote yes on Proposal B on November 2. Help us improve democracy by making a choice for more choices.

You can learn more about Instant Runoff Voting and Ferndale for Instant Runoff Voting (F-IRV), as well as endorse, volunteer, or donate easily online at F-IRV campaign headquarters are at 22757 Woodward, Suite 210 in Ferndale. Call 248-336-9241 or email for more information.

Dr. Howard Ditkoff, who ran the successful campaign for Instant Runoff Voting in Ferndale, Michigan, is a personal coach, group/organizational/business consultant and trainer through his company, Emergent Associates, LLC, which shares its unique knowledge, understanding and tools to support health in human systems of all types. Howard helps people discover and develop their deepest talents and potentials, bringing greater satisfaction to all areas of their lives, ranging from health to career to relationships, while helping groups, organizations and businesses of all kinds achieve greater success. For more information, or to contact Howard about setting up a Free Introductory Consultation, visit Emergent Associates, LLC's Website or email him.

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