TN Election official: IRV cannot be implemented

IRV can't be used in municipal election

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Instant runoff voting cannot be legally implemented in the Memphis municipal election this year, according to one of Tennessee’s top election officials.

Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins issued a ruling on Friday, explaining why the Shelby County Election Commission cannot implement instant runoff voting, despite Memphis voters overwhelmingly supporting the idea.

Instead of voting for one candidate, instant runoff voting allows voters to rank their choices, eliminating the need for a runoff.

In November, nearly 63 percent of Memphians reaffirmed their support for instant runoff voting, which was first approved in 2008, although it has never been implemented.

Last summer, the Shelby County Election Commission asked Goins if instant runoff voting could be implemented in the 2019 municipal election.

In his ruling, Goins said instant runoff voting cannot be implemented "under the mandates of current laws adopted by the General Assembly."

He said "questions remain" whether it complies with the Memphis City Charter, specifically a provision that directs instant runoff voting to be consistent with federal and state law, although he added that he "cannot authoritatively interpret the charter."

He also said instant runoff voting won't work if there's more than three candidates running for a Memphis city office, because the voting machines the county uses aren't equipped to handled it.

"There is no authority for the SCEC to limit the ranking of candidates to three. The City of Memphis has not adopted an ordinance limiting the number of candidates to be ranked," Goins added.

Goins said Shelby County elections administrator Linda Phillips testified that "she was waiting for the City of Memphis to give her guidance on whether the candidate ranking could be limited to three."

In a statement to WMC Action News 5, Phillips said "We are considering our options and will be discussing this at the Commission meeting Tuesday at 4 at the O.C. Pleasant Jr. Operations Center on Nixon Drive."

The election commission has until March 4th to ask Goins to reconsider his ruling.

He would then have 20 days to grant, deny or take no action. If no action is taken, it would be considered a denial, which could be appealed no later than April 16th.

The election commission could also file an appeal in Chancery Court no later than April 16th.

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