Mark Miller has served many years on his municipal board of trustees, where his duties included managing local elections. Last year, he was elected clerk of Kalamazoo Township. He is also Chair of the MDP Sixth District.
At the second SCC meeting last year, Mark, along with 27 other Democrats, was appointed to the Standing Rules and Political Reform committee. This committee subsequently formed a subcommittee to specifically address the Directive on Proportional Voting (DPV). Mark graciously volunteered his time to chair the sub-committee.
Several days ago, Liano Sharon asked Mark if he would write up his thoughts on the Rules Committee’s work over the past six months, and he generously agreed. That article is here.
Mark also provided the text of his chair’s report on the subcommittee’s work. The draft discussed in his report was subsequently adopted by the full Rules Committee. His report follows.
I’d like to thank Mark again for his kindness sharing his words with us, and remind all that his thoughts and opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent this publication, nor does he necessarily agree with the thoughts and opinions expressed elsewhere in this publication.
I chaired a subcommittee of the Rules Committee that dealt with the “State Party Directive on Proportional Voting’. If our proposal passes, this will henceforth be known as ‘RULES FOR VOTING AND ELECTIONS IN THE MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY’. I have had major problems with the ‘Directive’, and this is a complete re-write, mostly by me. Below is the report I gave to the Rules Committee from the subcommittee.
The members of the Subcommittee were Mary Ann, Liano, Tim, Jonathan, Angel, Traci, and myself. I want to thank the Subcommittee for their work.
I want to explain a few of the priorities we had in mind in coming up with these rules.
I have had literally hundreds of conversations with party members over the past 17 years about the existing “State Party Directive”. Almost all of these were sharing their exasperation with struggling to understand something in these rules. These is no explanation for basic terms, so that I still hear party leaders refer to the SADV [State Allocation of Delegate Vote] weighting process as ‘proportional voting’. The fact that they can still make such as basic error as that is not their fault. This basic term, ‘proportional voting’, is never defined. I know what it means, because I’ve had extensive conversations with folks who were there during the McGovern reforms of the 1970’s when this language came about.
Our draft includes definitions of all key terms, explanations of why we are carrying out the procedures like the SADV process, and detailed instructions on how to carry out each process. Since I’ve been working on this since about 2009, I’ve tested some of my proposed language on dozens of party members who had no prior experience with running elections, and asked them to tell me what was not clear. I’ve improved the wording as a result of these tests. Now, admittedly, all this explanation makes the document longer. It stands at seven pages, complete with examples, compared with four pages in the present “Directive”. But I think the additional explanation is necessary for clarity.
The Present Directive includes a number of voting methods which are briefly described, but do not include the details needed to actually carry them out. The Instant Run-off method – which applies only to a single-winner election, by the way, not proportional voting – absolutely requires a ranked choice paper ballot be used to resolve the election. And yet, this fact is never mentioned, nor is a way of still complying with the “no secret ballots” rule given. Processing an Instant Run-off election is considerably complex, yet the details are not dealt with in the “Directive”.
The same could be said for other methods included in the “Directive” – Cumulative Voting, and what is called “At-Large Preferential”, which is actually the Borda Count method. All three of these are rarely if ever used in the Party. Actually, Liano has an example from this year that was carried out that was called Cumulative Voting that actually was not. This is a subsidiary problem when the rules are incomplete.
Slate Voting works well, and is sufficient for multiple-winner elections. We propose deleting these three methods – Cumulative, At-Large, Instant Run-off.
Third, MATHEMATICAL CORRECTNESS.
In the Directive, there is a formula, “N > 1/(x+1)”, where N is the “vote” needed to elect one position. This is the quota, and you go on to divide the proportion a slate has received by this quota. Well, what is the value of the quota? We are told it is “greater than” 1/(x+1), but we are not told what it is. How do you divide by an indeterminate number? This is simply a mathematical blunder.
Our draft fixes this and other ambiguities, while considerably simplifying slate voting.
The Directive never mentions single-winner elections, except for the Instant Run-off method, which is not being used. So we have no guidance for electing to a single office, say Treasurer.
It is a basic principle that a majority is required to decide an issue or elect someone to office. Our Rules say that we are under Robert’s Rules when our rules are silent. Robert’s says – “A plurality that is not a majority never chooses a proposition or elects anyone to office except by virtue of a special rule previously adopted.” Now, we do have such a special rule for multiple-winner elections. These are the methods provided for proportional voting, in the current Directive: Slate Voting, Cumulative, and At-Large Preferential. The whole point of proportional voting is that a minority can elect some representation when a group of delegates is being elected.
But for a single-winner office, it needs to be a majority. That’s what Robert’s says, and our rules are currently silent on this. So I would argue that we are and always have been under a mandate for holding a majority election for single offices. But no means have been provided, except for Instant Run-off, which is not being used.
Our draft includes complete rules for running majority single-winner elections, with elimination of the lowest vote-getter and voting again to get to a majority. This has worked very well in my experience, and has none of the complications of alternatives. This gives us complete rules for all elections in one place.
So: Clarity, Simplicity, Mathematical Correctness, Completeness.
Working with the Subcommittee has improved the draft in a number of ways. Mary Ann Neopolitan mentioned that some counties elect officers as a group, in effect an officer slate. So we added language explicitly allowing that, and dealing with some complications that can arise in that situation. I had a conversation with Jon Kinloch, where he told me they elect the various groups of male and female delegates and alternates and district committee members together in one vote. So we included that as an option in these rules. Tim Hughes had concerns about language limiting the use of precedents based on previous rules. So we eliminated that language.
Every major section of the draft* in front of you was approved by a unanimous vote of Subcommittee members present at our next to last meeting. There were a few subsequent edits which were not unanimous.
*Referring to the draft when it was presented to the Rules Committee on January 23rd.
The draft was adopted by the full Committee and will be part of the package presented to the State Central Committee on February 10th in Flint. A 2/3rds majority vote is required to adopt any changes to the MDP Rules.