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Ranked choice voting pulled from November’s ballot after possible MEL violations

Posted at 2:12 PM, Jul 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-31 14:12:24-04

LANSING, Mich. — Not even a month after the Lansing city council voted to put ranked choice voting on the ballot in November, there’s been a change of plans.

On Monday, the council decided to table their decision to add ranked choice voting to the ballot and it stems from a letter from Michigan’s Elections Director, Jonathan Brater.

Letter from Jonathan Brater

“With the dialogue we had, the Attorney General’s Office prompted us to send our plans to the SOS Department of Elections and that prompted the question whether it’s legally right,” said James Smiertka, Lansing’s City Attorney.

Ranked choice voting would allow voters to rank their choices for mayor, city council, or city clerk.

“It requires voters to rank candidates by a preference on their ballots,” said city council member Adam Hussain. “If a candidate wins the majority of first preference votes, he or she is declared the winner.”

Councilmember Adam Hussain explaining ranked-choice voting

If no candidate got the majority of first-choice votes, the person with the fewest votes would be eliminated and the second choices of everyone who voted for that candidate would be counted until there is a clear majority winner.

Brater's letter, which arrived on Monday, said ranked choice voting is “inconsistent with several provisions go the Michigan Election Law…” One of the main red flags involves technology.

Voting technology

“Right now, the technology does not exist in Ingham County to run a ranked choice voting election,” said Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum. “In Michigan, our computers that run the elections must be federally certified and state-certified. It takes at least two years and we’re only a few years into the technology we have now. And the technology that I have. I cannot program a Rank choice election."

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum was the first to express concerns about ranked choice voting to the state’s elections department. She said she doesn’t think Lansing is prepared to take on this form of voting and wishes the city council communicated with her before they made the initial decision to add it to the ballot.

Lansing City Council

“Sometimes, I think people forget what clerks do,” Byrum said. “City Council has a clerk, the Lansing city clerk and sometimes they may forget about the county clerk. So, in Michigan, our elections are decentralized. So the county clerk. The county clerk programs the election.”

“Our city attorney and their office has done the research and basically this has been a project that’s been going on for some months now,” said council member Brian Jackson. “ I don’t expect the county clerk to know our agenda, but it’s definitely wasn’t a secret.”

Councilmember Brian Jackson has supported ranked choice voting since the beginning. He said while some have concerns, he’s still hoping it can become a part of Lansing’s elections.

“I appreciate the benefits that come with it, increased participation a friendlier primary season and more people have control of their vote,” Jackson said.

As of right now, Eastpointe, which is just 80 miles south of Lansing, is the only city in the state that has adopted ranked choice voting. The city was required to adopt it after a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice. This was implemented in 2019.

City Council building in Eastpointe

Smierkta said he’s focusing on doing more research on the legal side of ranked choice voting and says he could take a while before it’s considered again.

“They’re going to look at me, the city attorney, and ask me can we move forward with this, and at this point I’m not going to give a definite answer until we go through all this and find more info,” Smierkta said.

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