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Settlement of civil rights suit brings ranked choice voting to a small city

Advocates of ranked-choice voting won a small victory last week when a Detroit suburb agreed to switch to that system for city council elections in order to settle a civil rights suit brought at the end of the Obama administration.

The Department of Justice alleged in January 2017 that the traditional at-large system used in Eastpointe, Mich., violated the Voting Rights Act because it resulted in black people having less opportunity than white people to elect candidates of their choice.

The Census Bureau estimates the city of 32,000 is now 46 percent black and 42 percent white, a dramatic shift from the start of the decade, when 64 percent of the residents were white and 30 percent black.

In a settlement agreement that still must be approved by a federal judge, city officials do not admit that the voting system that was used was discriminatory and the federal government acknowledges that any discrimination that has occurred was not intentional.

"This agreement reflects the department's resolute commitment to vigorous enforcement of the Voting Rights Act to protect the right to vote in all elections," said Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for civil rights.

Under the new ranked-choice system, voters will rank city council candidates in their order of preference.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly said the suit was filed during the Trump administration.

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