News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.

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.

News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Tech. Sgt. Jeff Kelly/U.S. Air Force

The Federal Voting Assistance Program assists military members who need to vote via absentee ballot. A spokeswoman for the Defense Department said there would be "minimal disruptions" if the United States pulls out of the international postage agency.

Costs to mail ballots may skyrocket for civilians, military living overseas

Election officials are growing increasingly concerned that the Trump administration's trade war with China could make it more difficult and expensive for overseas voters — including those in the military — to cast ballots in the 2019 and 2020 local, state and federal elections.

The issue is the pending withdrawal in October by the U.S. from the Universal Postal Union, a group of 192 nations that has governed international postal service and rates for 145 years.

Last October, the U.S. gave the required one-year notice stating it would leave the UPU unless changes were made to the discounted fees that China pays for shipping small packages to the United States. The subsidized fees — established years ago to help poor, developing countries — place American businesses at a disadvantage and don't cover costs incurred by the U.S. Postal Service.

With the U.S.-imposed deadline for withdrawal or new rates fast approaching, states officials are running out of time to prepare for overseas mail-in voting.

Keep reading... Show less
Wambui Gatheru

"Every single opportunity I have been afforded in this country can be traced back to the ratification of amendments."

Meet the reformer: 10 questions with Wambui Gatheru

'Every single opportunity I have been afforded in this country can be traced back to the ratification of amendments.'

Wambui Gatheru is the outreach manager at American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to regulate the raising and spending of electoral campaign funds. Originally from Connecticut, Gatheru, 24, joined the American Promise staff in 2017 after graduating from the University of Connecticut.

The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

What's the tweet-length description of your organization?

American Promise is a cross-partisan organization committed to getting money out of politics, forever, with a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Describe your very first civic engagement.

Knocking door-to-door in my small town in Connecticut when Barack Obama was first running for president.

What was your biggest professional triumph?

Being a part of the effort that made New Hampshire the 20th state in favor of the 28th Amendment. This was something I'd been working on since I started at American Promise two years ago, and the legislation was just passed in March of this year. It was a surreal victory because it had been such a long fight. It took a lot of coordination on every level of civic engagement, but it's a victory I'm happy to have been a part of here at American Promise.

Keep reading... Show less