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Voters to decide on instant runoff

Amos Maki // Published May 17, 2008 in commercialappeal.com--Memphis, Online
Memphis voters will be able to decide if there should be instant-runoff voting in municipal elections.

Memphis Charter Commission members -- who also decided on the number of city court judges and discussed mayoral succession -- chose Thursday to include instant-runoff voting on an ever-increasing list of ballot measures voters will consider that would govern how city government operates for decades to come.

With instant-runoff balloting, voters rank their candidates in order of preference. If one candidate gets a majority of first-place votes, that candidate wins outright.

If not, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and his or her ballots get redistributed among the remaining contenders based on the second-place votes. The process continues until a candidate gets a majority and is declared the winner.

The current runoff system in some City Council districts results in low turnout and high costs, according to proponents of instant-runoff voting.

"With IRV you get the same benefits of a runoff election but you have higher turnout and save $250,000," said County Commissioner Steve Mulroy.

The Charter Commission also rejected the call from Memphis City Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon to change the City Court system from three full-time judges to include two more part-time judges who would hear cases in courtrooms and at satellite locations.

The Charter Commission then turned its attention to the issue of mayoral succession.

The charter currently dictates that the City Council chairman will become mayor for 20 days if the mayor steps down or is unable to serve. The council then will vote to appoint an interim mayor to serve until the next municipal or general election, which is scheduled for November.

If the council cannot agree on an interim mayor within the 20 days, the city chief administrative officer would become mayor until the council acts or the next election.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton said in March that he planned to retire July 31.

Former councilwoman and mayoral candidate Carol Chumney proposed having a special election for mayor two months after a mayor resigns. Chumney floated the proposal before Herenton announced his planned retirement.

City Councilman and Charter Commission chairman Myron Lowery suggested that the council chairman be given the title vice mayor and serve for mayor for 90 days, when a special election would be required to be held.

"I'm in favor of having an elected official serve as interim mayor," said Lowery.

Judge George Brown proposed that a council member from a Super District serve for 180 days, after which a special election would be held to elect a replacement.

Brown said a super district council member should serve because they represent more voters than a regular district representative.

The Charter Commission will take the issue up again at its next meeting May 29.

It will also discuss a proposal from Memphis City Schools board member and charter commissioner Sharon Webb that would require the city to fund the school system.

City Council members are discussing whether to withhold some or all of the $93.5 million in city funds set to flow to the school system next year.

Contact reporter Amos Maki at 529-2351. To read more stories by him, click on Contact Us at commercialappeal.com and click on his name.