Words matter: the ones chosen and those left out.
And as Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Ryan Poe notes, what was omitted from the ballot language on a referendum seeking to repeal ranked choice voting in Memphis belies biased intentions.
The Memphis City Council made its intentions clear in the unanimous vote of support to add a referendum repealing RCV, as well as the subsequent denial of an attempt to strike the question from the ballot.
The language of the ballot question similarly reveals that “they’re trying to stack the deck in favor of the referendums,” according to Poe, who pointed out several key details omitted from the question.
The question fails to mention that, in the decade since voters overwhelmingly backed a switch to ranked choice voting, the city has yet to actually try it.
Then there’s the reference to a 1991 federal ruling, sans explanation.
As Poe writes,
"There's nothing about what the '1991 federal ruling' is and why it's relevant to instant runoffs, but it's clearly a coded message to voters.”
That message, which longtime Memphis voters might remember, is to the 1991 decision to abolish runoffs for Memphis’ mayoral and at-large City Council races because they were found to violate the Voting Rights Act by preventing black candidates from winning seats.
Conveniently omitted from the ballot language, or implied message, is that a traditional runoff is far different than the “instant runoff” created under ranked choice voting, the latter of which has actually led to more diverse and representative elected bodies in the cities that use it.
As Poe concludes,
“Putting the questions to voters isn't a bad idea, necessarily — although voters have already spoken on both issues. But at least ask the questions fairly.”
Read the column here.