On 24 February Michigan for Revolution delivered five appeals to Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) headquarters in Lansing regarding the elections held at Cobo Center two weeks earlier. Last week, the MDP Appeals Committee rejected every appeal, on every point, unanimously. What follows is the first article in a series, each taking up one point from the MDP’s written denials of the appeals. At the end of each article we will provide links to the appeal, the MDP’s written reply, and the relevant MDP documents. We do not ask anyone to take our word for what we write here. Instead, we encourage everyone to read the original documents and come to your own conclusions.
Today, let’s talk about the MDP’s response on the issue of proportional voting. In both Congressional District 5 (CD5) and CD12 Michigan for Revolution filed appeals on several points, including the Caucus’ failure to comply with MDP Rules requiring proportional voting.
Proportional voting is a well established term in the literature on voting systems. It has a clear and unambiguous meaning. It means a voting procedure that ensures each group in the electorate can win representation in government proportionate to their numbers among the electorate. In an election by proportional voting, if a group is n% of the electorate it should win n% of the representation available in the election. For example, if there are 10 seats of a given position on a committee available in an election, a group with 40% of the vote should win 40% of those seats, so 4 seats; a group with 20% of the vote should win 2 seats, and so on.
Unfortunately, the MPD Rules, including the DPV, do not use key terms consistently. For example, in the context of slate voting — a common proportional voting system — a “seat” is held by a single person, while a “position” is composed of multiple seats all carrying the same title. This distinction is fundamental to the slate voting procedure. The DPV repeatedly uses “position” as if it were synonymous with “seat”. For more on the importance of clearly distinguishing between “position” and “seat” in slate voting, see here.
The antithesis of proportional voting is what we use in most of our local, state, and national elections. The technical term for it is “plurality winner first past the post” (PWFPP) voting. Because it’s the voting system we use in pretty much all of our big elections, most people just call it “voting”. In this kind of voting, whoever gets the most votes wins, even if they have less than a majority of votes. For example, in a three-way PWFPP election where the results are 30%, 30%, 40%, the candidate with just 40% of the vote wins 100% of the government power available in the election – even though they received a minority of the total vote, all others are excluded. Proportional voting was invented specifically to avoid this and similar outcomes.
MDP Rules 2.A.8 and Article 11 (paragraph 3) clearly require that State Central Committee (SCC) delegates and alternates be elected using proportional voting. Article 11 directs members to the MDP Directive on Proportional Voting (DPV) for further instructions on how to comply with this requirement.
In the CD5 and CD12 SCC elections this past February, proportional voting was not used. Michigan for Revolution appealed this violation specifically and in detail. We described how the elections were run. In both cases, the chairperson put each seat (not position) on the SCC up for election one at a time, asked for nominations, and called a vote between the individual nominees. That’s PWFPP voting. And it’s not proportional. Here’s a video showing the CD5 election being conducted this way.
In their response, the MDP admits the elections were not carried out under a system of proportional voting. In fact, despite MDP Rules repeatedly establishing that proportional voting is required, the MDP asserts that proportional voting is not required. Here’s the key part of their response on this point.
The MDP writes (emphasis is theirs),
The caucus used single person slate voting, allowing nominations of single person slates for each office and voting on each of those offices separately. The State Party Directive on Proportional Voting sets forth a number of voting systems which comply with the directive, including cumulative voting, list or slate voting, and at-large preferential voting. Section II.B of the Directive, on list or slate voting, provides:
When slate voting is used, the rules should describe a nominating process that groups the positions to be filled by title and gender. It is permissible for such groupings to create single member offices so long as equal division of gender is maintained. (Emphasis added.)
Consider the MDP’s description of “single person slate voting”. Walk through the procedure it describes.
- The chair opens nominations for a “single member office”.
- People nominate “single person slates” for each office.
- Each voter votes for one of the “single person slates”.
- The “single person slate” with the most votes wins the “single member office”.
How is this any different from just plain old “voting” (PWFPP)? The MDP is asserting that having “slate voting” in the name of the voting system is enough to comply with the MDP Rules requiring proportional voting — even when the voting system itself doesn’t fit the definition of proportional voting; even when the voting system itself is the logical antithesis of proportional voting.
Now consider the context. MDP Rules 2.A.8, Article 11 (paragraph 3), and the DPV Section II (first paragraph) all plainly require proportional voting. The DPV does not require any of the specific voting systems the DPV lists. The DPV specifically says
“proportional voting shall be used … the following systems may be adopted … in order to insure compliance with the Party’s rules on Proportional Voting”
(italic and bold emphasis added; capitalization in original).
The DPV does not require slate voting. The DPV does require proportional voting. The MDP interpretation changes the core features of slate voting so radically, the result is a system that is functionally identical to plain old voting (PWFPP), and therefore the antithesis of proportional voting. The DPV clearly says that purpose of slate voting is “to insure … Proportional Voting”. The MDP doesn’t even attempt to claim their interpretation results in proportional voting.
The MDP’s ruling on this point has no basis in the MDP Rules.
Having no basis in the rules, the MDP’s denials rest solely on a list of precedents they cite that goes back decades. Each of those precedents relies on the same reasoning we have dismantled above. In effect, these citations amount to the MDP admitting it has been breaking it’s own rules for decades.
The MDP Rules are not all that bad, in most places. They’re just written in a way that’s hard to understand unless you’re already familiar with voting systems. To most people, and indeed many members and officeholders of the MDP, the rules and examples are often unclear and confusing. The MDP doesn’t understand voting systems well enough to enforce their own rules correctly. For example, if you understand slate voting and how delegates and alternates are allocated to CDs, the section of the DPV cited above by the MDP has a clear meaning that preserves proportional voting rather than destroying it. The explanation gets a little long, but it’s completely straightforward — the details are here.
All of us want a strong MDP. Unfortunately, the MDP has a reputation for not following its own rules, and being unfair and unjust to newcomers. The MDP’s rulings on the CD5 and CD12 appeals are a prime example of the Party hurting itself.
Instead of continuing down that road, we’re asking every member of the Michigan Democratic Party to join us in demanding the rules be fairly and transparently enforced.
In the CD5 an CD12 elections last February, the MDP Rules requiring proportional voting were violated. The MDP Appeals Committee has refused to enforce the clear meaning of the rules as written, perhaps because they simply don’t understand them.
The MDP State Central Committee has the authority to overrule the Appeals Committee. Will Democrats stand up for democracy? For fair elections?
If not now, when?