Instant hope

In much cheerier election news, we direct your attention to the burg of Ferndale, where kudos are much deserved.

Thanks to a group of local activists who campaigned like hell, voters there last week approved Proposal B, amending the city charter to allow for instant runoff voting, or IRV, when choosing their mayor and city council members.

If you haven’t heard of it, IRV is a fairly simple concept. Essentially, voters rank their preferences — first, second, third, etc. — when casting a ballot. If there’s no clear-cut winner after the first count, the candidate receiving the fewest votes is out, and the second choice for all those voting first for the eliminated candidate is counted. The process continues until one candidate receives a clear majority.

For example, if IRV were in place on a national scale, supporters of Ralph Nader could have listed him as their first choice and John Kerry second. Once Nader was eliminated, the vote would be recounted with Kerry picking up the additional votes of everyone who wanted Nader as their first choice. Essentially, it’s a way for third parties to gain a foothold without having to shoulder the burden of being deemed “spoilers.”

Proposal B gathered nearly 70 percent of the vote, passing 6,522 to 2,828. The astounding margin of victory can be attributed to a lot of hard work by a small but determined group led by activists Howard Ditkoff, Stacie Trescott, Kathryn Bruner and Brian Wilgenbusch. They and a team of volunteers began by successfully lobbying Mayor Robert Porter and the Ferndale City Council to put the proposal on the ballot, bypassing the need for the expensive and time-consuming route of gathering petition signatures. A Web site,, made information on the issue easily accessible. Then group members went knocking on every door in the city, literally. Some twice.

Ditkoff says by the time Election Day neared, many of Ferndale’s 17,000 registered voters, most of whom had never heard of IRV before the campaign began, were giving him the “Oh, yeah, I know” treatment.

One debate, he says, almost didn’t happen because they couldn’t find anyone who opposed it. It became more of a Q&A instead.

The City of Ferndale will purchase the voting software, which is manufactured by Elections Systems and Software, as soon as it becomes available. It should be ready for use by the next election.

How’s that for hope?

Send comments to [email protected]
Scroll to read more Metro Detroit articles

Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.