Public Policy
  Analysis, opinion & ideas from Steve Harry



Ranked choice voting would have kept out Macomb's unfit clerk

March 31, 2018


A circuit court judge ruled March 27 that County Clerk Karen Spranger of Macomb County was not legally elected and had to give up her office. She lied as a candidate when she claimed she lived at 7520 Hudson in Warren. (Detroit Free Press, 3/28/2018) Officials began to suspect she did not live at the Warren address when they found "rubbish and broken furniture piled up to five feet deep inside the house. They "used a bulldozer to break into the home because wall-to-wall rubbish blocked every entrance." (Detroit Free Press, 3/19/2018)


The people of Macomb County can consider themselves fortunate to have found grounds for Spranger's removal. She won the 2016 election fair and square and could have continued her destructive ways for another 3 years. Her performance had been alarming. From that March 19 article in the Detroit Free Press:


County officials including judges have said in lengthy discussions and hearings that, under Spranger, key operations of the clerk's office fell dramatically behind. According to county leaders, Spranger took office in January 2017 with roughly 85 employees, then fired experienced staffers seemingly without reason, left jobs vacant and routinely violated the county's bargaining agreements with two unions Ė the UAW, whose contract covers Spranger's supervisors; and AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, which represents Sprangerís rank-and-file subordinates.

Last year, rampant understaffing in the county clerk's realm led to 90-minute waits for documents such as birth certificates; backlogs by the thousands, in both paper and electronic court files; and a critical backup of more than 4,000 files in the vital Law Enforcement Information Network, or LEIN, a situation that Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said endangered police officers 24 hours a day. To resolve the backlogs and long customer waits, Macomb's Circuit Court judges have issued a series of orders, taking away much of Sprangerís authority and stipulating the return of UAW supervisors to their jobs. 

So how did she get elected?


There were four candidates in the Republican primary. She won by 312 votes, with 29.9% of 43,345 votes cast. Another 43,121 voters voted in the Democratic primary, for a total of 86,466. Her 12,996 was 15% of total votes cast in the primary.



In the general election, she defeated the Democrat with 50.1% of the vote:



Ranked choice voting (RCV) would have ensured a win for the most popular candidate and could have eliminated the need for a primary. It would have allowed voters to pick their favorite from either party, but also select a second, third, fourth, etc. choice in case their first choice didn't initially get over 50% of the vote. Here's what the clerk section of the ballot might have looked like:


The winner is determined as follows: All of the first choice votes are counted and if any candidate receives over 50%, he/she is the winner. If no candidate has over 50%, the one with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated. That candidate's first choice votes are re-allocated to the voters' next highest preferred candidate and the process is repeated until one candidate receives over 50% of the vote. It's all done by computer, but can be verified by hand counting if necessary.


According to a March 28 article in The Daily Beast, the state of Maine will switch to RCV starting this summer:

RCV is used in a half-dozen countries around the world and in 12 cities around the country. Evaluations show that voters prefer it to simple plurality. The additional complexity of RCV ballots has not reduced turnout as some had feared. Instead, recent RCV elections in Minneapolis, Santa Fe and St. Paul resulted in the highest mayoral turnouts in more than a decade.

According to this article in the Detroit News, new voting machines will have been installed across Michigan by the August 2018 primaries. It says

The new contracts approved Tuesday are with Dominion Voting Systems of Toronto, Election Systems and Software of Nebraska and Hart InterCivic of Texas, which Johnsonís office said will provide systems that have been successful in other states.

According to this paper from the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, Hart's equipment has been certified as RCV capable and the equipment of Dominion and of Election Systems and Software can be made RCV capable with third party tabulation software.


Hugh McNichol IV of the organization Represent.Us is our local (Lansing) expert on RCV. He wrote an article on RCV for this website on February 2. He said Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and some state legislators say changes to election law are needed before any Michigan municipality can implement RCV. However, some of those municipalities say RCV is authorized under the Home Rule Act. Hugh may be contacted at hugh.mcnichol@gmail.com.


By eliminating primary elections, RCV saves money - not just the cost of administering the election, but for the voters who have to make the trip to the polling place. Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope estimates that each of Lansing's primaries cost the City over $50,000.


More democracy, less cost. What's not to like?


Send comments, questions, and tips to stevenrharry@gmail.com, or call or text me at 517-505-2696. If you'd like to be notified by email when I post a new story, let me know.


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