Memphis City Council: Circumventing the People’s Will 

On a preceding page of this issue, law professor Steve Mulroy, who paid his political dues as a two-term member of the Shelby County Commission, exhorts the candidates in this year's city election to attend to certain overdue tasks.

One of those is that of reviving the efforts, sabotaged at two governmental levels, including by the current Memphis City Council, to institute Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in local elections. One of the scandals of the year just passed has been a successful joint effort by the aforesaid incumbent council members and the office of the Tennessee Secretary of State to suppress what had already been planned as a trial of RCV during the now ongoing Memphis municipal election.

Their efforts included, on the council side, the patently illegal use of taxpayer funds to compensate city lobbyists in Nashville for supporting legislation to ban RCV (also known as Instant Runoff Voting) in all state elections. The council further authorized the use of more public money to pay a public relations agency for advertisements advocating a "No" vote on a citywide referendum last year to uphold previous voter support of RCV.

The first such public referendum vote occurred in 2008 and was lopsidedly in favor of RCV. A second referendum in 2018 should have been unnecessary, but, once held, at council direction, it, too, passed overwhelmingly. As we noted editorially at the time, our own elected city council was using our own taxpayer money in an effort to cancel out what had been our duly authorized vote in favor of Ranked Choice Voting.

Nor has the council majority ceased in its efforts to strike down a public initiative. Council attorney Allan Wade has been directed by the incumbent council members to seek further legal "remedies" to counteract the people's will.

click to enlarge Allan Wade
  • Allan Wade

Meanwhile, the state Election Coordinator, which is a part of the publicly endowed Secretary of State's office, issued a ruling, citing a hodge-podge of questionable reasons, why it regarded the RCV process as "illegal" and imposed a directive on the Shelby County Election Coordinator, Linda Phillips, not to follow through on this year's or any other future implementation of RCV.

Ranked Choice Voting, it will be remembered, calls upon voters to rank their preferred choices, usually in a 1-2-3 sequence. Should there be no majority winner for an election position, the votes of runner-up candidates would be given appropriate weight and reassigned to the top two finishers in accordance with the preferences established in voters' rankings. Eventually a majority winner would be declared thereby.

The method saves time, money, and effort, and makes unnecessary follow-up runoff elections that, in the case of the October 3rd council district elections, would be scheduled for late November, at a time when the interests of the voting public would have shifted elsewhere, resulting in miniscule turnouts with inevitably misleading final results.

It would seem to be a small thing to ask — that our elected officials observe the people's will in such matters as public referenda. The fact that they have not and that they have pursued under-handed means of counteracting those expressions of the democratic process is an embarrassment and an outrage.

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