Eastpointe, Michigan agreed on Tuesday to address legal claims of racial discrimination by adopting ranked choice voting (RCV). The settlement makes the city the first in Michigan to use RCV, now increasingly common nationwide, since Ann Arbor stopped using the election method in the 1970s.
Eastpointe had come under scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice because African-American candidates historically had not won contested city council elections, despite African-American voters making up 30 percent of the city’s electorate. Legal challenges followed. The city council voted yesterday to settle them by adopting RCV.
Eastpointe’s mayor, Suzanne Pixley, was quoted in the city’s press release as saying, “we are eager to be the first city in the State of Michigan to implement ranked-choice voting for our City election and look forward to positive results with the change.”
In 2017, the federal government had argued in a Voting Rights Act (VRA) challenge that Eastpointe’s elections unfairly diluted the voting strength of the city’s black voters. Because the city has elected its five city council members by an at-large winner-take-all vote of the entire electorate, the larger bloc of white voters had consistently defeated city council candidates from the black community.
Robert Ihrie, Eastpointe’s city attorney, explained that the shift to RCV would help “enhance the ability of minorities to have a minority elected." In other cities, RCV has increased representation for communities of color both on the ballot and in elected office. Eastpointe’s decision echoes the advice of some commentators that courts adopt RCV as a remedy in VRA cases. The settlement also reflects a tradition of resolving VRA claims by adopting proportional voting methods.