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Will cities like Kalamazoo be allowed to implement ranked-choice voting?

White yard sign that says Vote Yes Ranked Choice Voting. Better for Voters. Better for Democracy.
Sehvilla Mann
A sign in Kalamazoo's Winchell neighborhood, photographed October 8, 2023. In November, Kalamazoo passed a proposal to allow ranked-choice voting in local elections.

The voting system violates current state election statutes, but legislation could change that.

In November, Kalamazoo, Royal Oak, and East Lansing approved ranked-choice voting for city elections. Ann Arbor and Ferndale previously passed ranked-choice voting proposals. But the system goes against several Michigan Board of Elections statutes.

State Representative Regina Weiss hopes to introduce legislation that would change that. Weiss’s district includes Royal Oak. She says that ranked-choice voting is not explicitly prohibited by Michigan law.

“However, because of the way in which statute is written, and specifically spells out how language must appear on a ballot, and because of the way in which that is that is specified, it does not allow for a rank-choice system,” she said.

Weiss was among a group of legislators who introduced similar legislation last year. They didn’t get far. But she said things might be different with Democrats in the majority.

 “Last session, we were in the minority,” she said. “We knew it was pretty unlikely that that bill was going to move, and in fact, we didn't even get a hearing on it last session.”

Ranked-choice allows voters to choose more than one candidate in order of preference instead of picking only one. If a candidate does not receive at least 50 percent of the votes, an instant runoff takes place. Proponents say the system allows for more diverse candidates and improves voter turnout, but critics claim that implementation can be confusing and expensive.

The group Rank MI Vote was a driving force behind the November proposals. Executive Director Ron Zimmerman said the organization hopes to keep putting ranked-choice voting on the ballot in cities across Michigan. He pushes back against those who claim the system is confusing.

 “That's not the reality where it gets implemented,” he said. “Every day people rank their choices in their own everyday life of doing anything. It's not that hard to rank your candidate.”

 Weiss said she hopes to present the legislation early next year.