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5th ward debates ranked-choice voting and discusses city manager search

Council member Bobby Burns told his 5th Ward constituents during his Thursday, June 30, ward meeting about the difficulties hiring a city manager, yet there are resumes coming in to city hall. He also outlined ranked-choice voting, which the City Council will discuss at its next meeting July 11, and may or may not decide to put to a referendum.

“We are interviewing people who are top talent in government administration. And so it is not uncommon that they would be pursuing other opportunities,” Burns said of the two recent searches where the chosen candidates walked away. “Which is why I think what we learned from that is we need to try to build consensus quickly come to a decision, make an offer and move forward.”

Council member Bobby Burns (5th).

He said he knew that 15 additional applications have come in for the position since he last checked and the city is now reading through resumes and hosting interviews to develop a group of finalists.

(Mayor Daniel Biss and the Evanston RoundTable are hosting a hybrid town hall meeting to talk about concerning the city manager search process at 7 pm July 12 at the Morton Civic Center)

Ranked-choice voting debate

Greg Andrus, vice president of the Democratic Party of Evanston, began the discussion about the ranked-choice voting process at Thursday’s meeting to educate residents, as the matter is being considered by the city. He was joined by a representative from FairVote, a nonpartisan organization that is dedicated to voting reforms.

In ranked-choice voting, instead of primary and general elections, all the choices are made in one election. Voters do not choose only one candidate at the polling booth, rather they rank the candidates running individually from favorite to least favorite, Andrus said. If there are five or six candidates on the ballot, the final decision is made via the first vote and the top two candidates win.

“But what it really shows is that, in practice, it leads to election cycles that are less heated, less angry. Because what you end up with is candidates deciding to run together,” Andrus said, adding that ranked-ballots are a consensus-building way of voting than the “winner-take-all” format the city has now.

But there was a lot of pushback to Andrus’ summary. Including from Burns, who disagreed with Andrus that ranked voting would mean a less contentious election cycle, and he added his concern that if voters do not rank every single candidate then there might be spoiled ballots that the city cannot use.

Former Fifth Ward Council member Delores Holmes noted that ranked-choice voting also does not generally help in increasing voter turnout, either — something Andrus agreed with.)

Eighth Ward Council member Devon Reid.

Eighth Ward Council member Devon Reid, who attended the meeting, said he was a staunch opponent of the measure, saying ranked-choice ballots seem to make elections more confusing.

“Because there are a lot of candidates on the ballot, voters get overloaded. There’s some evidence to show that there’s voter overload and brain overload when you have too many choices,” Reid said. “And by narrowing the choices down to two, I think that’s what increases the voter turnout in the general because there’s a clear juxtaposition between two candidates rather than trying to figure out in a group of five.”

Andrus disagreed, saying that the new voting style comes with a learning curve, but, “if you’ve ever sat down with your friends, and eight of you have tried to figure out what pizza you’re getting, you know how rank choice vote works … you know how to compromise.”

Burns encouraged attendees to go to the July 11 City Council meeting where more research on ranked-choice ballots will be presented and continued discussion will take place before the city votes on whether not to put the measure on the ballot this fall.

Other announcements

On July 23, Connections for the Homeless will host a Fifth Ward Block party with Burns and neighbors. The two-part event starts with 12 pm- 4 pm “Family Fest” at Foster Field, Foster Street and Ashland Avenue. And ends with “After Dark” for the 21-plus crowd from 7 pm – 11 pm at Double Clutch Brewery, 2121 Ashland Ave., featuring live bands and DJ Corey Bless.

Daisy Copeland, who is project consultant with the Amplify Black Voices on Educational Equity in Evanston project, said the research project of STEM School Evanston will be happening parallel to the construction of the new Fifth ward school, Dr. Kihana Miraya Ross, a Black Studies professor at Northwestern University, will lead the documenting of Black Evanston voices, current and former, answering what it means to redress educational inequities of the past.

They are asking for all Black residents to fill out the survey, which asks questions about their educational experiences in the city and those of their children. It is open to all current and former residents who identify as Black and or who are raising children that identify as Black and are attending Evanston schools.

Black residents are also being asked for programming recommendations and name suggestions for the new Fifth Ward school.

Complete the survey here.

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