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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.

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

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a trio of democracy reform bills this week.

California governor signs three political reform bills

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.

The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.

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Gov. Ralph Northam used his executive authority to restore voting rights for felons, noting that Virginia is among the states that permanently strips such rights after a felony conviction.

Virginia governor restores voting rights to over 22,000 felons

More than 22,000 Virginians with felony convictions have regained the right to vote thanks to executive actions taken by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office in January 2018, his office announced this week.

In a statement, Northam's office said he has so far restored the civil rights of 22,205 people who had been convicted of felonies and have since completed their sentences. Those civil rights include the right to vote as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office and become a notary public.

Northam previously announced in February that nearly 11,000 convicted felons had their voting rights restored under his watch.

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