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CRC Column

The right to criticize government is also an obligation to know what you are talking about. 
-Lent Upson, 1st Executive Director of CRC  


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Detroit Ballot Issues
Proposal D: Election of Detroit City Council Members

October 2009
Memorandum 1094


At the November 3, 2009 election, voters in the City of Detroit will be asked whether the method of selecting city council members should be changed from the current at-large system to a hybrid system in which some members are elected from districts and others are elected at large. This question was placed on the ballot as a result of a citizensí initiated petition and will appear as Proposal D on the Detroit ballot.

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At the November 3, 2009 election, voters in the City of Detroit will be asked whether the method of selecting city council members should be changed from the current at-large system to a hybrid system in which some members are elected from districts and others are elected at large. This question was placed on the ballot as a result of a citizensí initiated petition and will appear as Proposal D on the Detroit ballot.

A History of Charter Questions

The issue of electing city council members at-large or by districts has been a recurring question in Detroit. In 1918, Detroit abandoned selecting council members by district and adopted the arrangement still used to this date: nine council members, selected at large in nonpartisan elections. That change was driven by the municipal reform movement of the era that advanced at-large elections and relatively small numbers of council members.

Since that time, Detroit voters have been asked to consider a return to districts on several occasions. When Detroiters were asked the question of replacing the 1918 Charter with a new charter in 1972, separate questions appeared on the ballot asking the votersí preference on council elections. Voters indicated a preference for a 9-member city council elected at large over a 15-member mixed council (8 from districts, 7 at large), and favored nonpartisan city elections. The charter commission incorporated those preferences in a revised proposed charter that was approved in 1973.

The proposed charter submitted to the voters in 1996 was again undecided on the matter of council elections. Rather than offering a proposed charter that might be decided on the single issue of council selection, the commission offered a separate question on council selection. Voters again indicated a preference for continuation of the current method of electing a 9-member council at large, this time over an 11-member body with the President and President Pro Tempore elected at-large and one council member elected from each of nine council districts. The city council would have been responsible for drawing districts that would have been required to be "compact, contiguous, and nearly equal in population as is practicable." Redistricting would have occurred following each Federal decennial census.

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