Memphis City Council moves to stop instant runoffs

Published: Dec. 6, 2017 at 2:40 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 6, 2017 at 4:54 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis City Council members want to protect the way they are elected.

A new "instant runoff" system is supposed to speed up elections, but the council now says it's the wrong move.

For more than an hour, Memphians spoke in front of city council members, many against the idea of repealing instant runoff voting.

However, that didn't stop council members from unanimously voting for the repeal.

One by one, Memphians took the podium to explain why instant runoff voting should stay in place.

But 10 years after Memphians voted to put the ranked voting system in place, they will now have to vote a second time.

Memphis City Council members voted to seek a referendum to repeal instant runoffs in 2018. Instant runoffs allow for voters to rank their second and third choices to avoid runoff elections.

"That was the most shameful and offensive thing I've seen in my whole life," said Brad Watkins with Mid-South Peace and Justice.

The vote by city council members prompted a news conference by multiple organizations minutes after.

"I'm equally concerned that the heartbeat of Memphis is on life support," said Earle Fisher with Memphis Grassroots Organization Coalition.

"A lack of good faith on the part of our representatives," said University of Memphis professor Steve Mulroy.

Many activists said taking away instant runoff voting benefits elected officials, not Memphians who may not have the means to go out to the polls several times.

"Most people don't hear about the runoff, when they do, they have to get off work," Watkins said. "They have transportation barriers, instant runoff voting allows that the majority of the population shows up for Election Day, gets their voices heard."

But Councilman Edmond Ford Jr. said many of his constituents believe instant runoff dilutes the voting process.

"They don't want a system where their vote is moved or exhausted," Ford said.

In November 2018, voters will have the chance to vote to have instant runoff voting repealed or to keep it. It was supposed to go into effect in 2019.

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