New voting method on Ferndale ballot

By Sharon Gittleman

This November, Ferndale residents will be asked whether they want to approve a new method for deciding who will represent them on the city council and in the Mayor's office. Proposal B would make Instant Runoff Voting the community's process of choice for selecting their city's leaders.

According to proponents, IRV allows individuals to select their first, second and third choice for a particular office. If no candidate gets a majority of the total ballots cast for a first place finish, the office-seeker getting the lowest number of votes is eliminated. Voters who made that candidate their first choice will see their ballots redistributed to their second ranked individual.

In August, the Ferndale City Council agreed to let voters decide if they want IRV by offering Proposal B on the November ballot.

City Council member Scott Galloway said he thought the proposal would let people vote with their heart - not just choose the candidate they reckoned was most likely to win.

"It will allow people to feel more free to vote for who they really believe will do the best job instead of thinking they will be wasting their vote," he said. "That's the whole idea."

Galloway said if it passes, IRV would only be used in civic elections.

"I think it's more fair - it yields more of a representative result," he said.

Craig Covey said IRV eliminates "spoiler" candidates.

"With Gore vs. Bush vs. Nader, had IRV been in place nationally, we would not have had the Supreme Court choose our president, but instead, Ralph Nader's voters would have gotten a chance to vote for the ultimate winner of the election," said Covey. "What IRV does is it keeps people from feeling they threw away a vote on a minor candidate or third or fourth party by ensuring that vote can be counted."

IRV could help smaller parties, Covey said.

"More people may vote because they'd have a bigger say," he said.

While Mayor Robert Porter said he supports IRV, he voted against placing Proposal B on the ballot.

Though he thought IRV would be appropriate for single office elections, Porter said it might cause vote-counting problems when several candidates are each seeking one of a handful of seats open on the city council.

"How do you break it down then?" he said.

He was also concerned about implementing IRV during a period when another long-time city voting practice is being changed. Starting next year, residents will no longer use voting machines. Instead, Porter said, people will mark their ballots by hand before they are digitally scanned.

The potential cost and availability of the software needed to support IRV is another problem, Porter said. While passage of Proposal B would authorize IRV voting in Ferndale, it couldn't be implemented until the Election Commission approved the process, supporters said.

"If everything was smooth as silk and software was found that worked, you have people dealing with new equipment," he said. "I don't want people going to the polls not understanding what their vote means."

Council member Mike Lennon said he voted against placing Proposal B on the ballot because he thought the IRV process was "too convoluted."

"I'm a purist," he said. "I believe you walk in the voting booth and vote for the person you want."

Lennon also said he feared IRV would lead to less voter participation.

"Unfortunately, most voters are apathetic," he said. "Do they really study all the candidates if you have six candidates running for an election? I don't know if people will do it. "

Residents could be overwhelmed by the IRV process, Lennon said.

"They might be intimidated from going to the polls," he said. "Our voter turnout here is terrible."

City officials said only 56.92 percent of registered Ferndale voters came to the polls in the last Presidential election.

Pride PAC President Sean Kosofsky said he believed IRV helps more progressive candidates to win.

"This does great things for democracy, more people will turn out to vote - you don't feel you are voting for tweedle dee or tweedle dum," he said. "A lot of people are very shy of casting their vote for a third party candidate - they worry about wasting their vote. That won't happen this way."

In addition to Pride-PAC, Triangle Foundation has also endorsed IRV.

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