Following recent Memphis City Council votes to put charter amendments on the November 2018 ballot to deny the implementation of ranked choice voting (RCV) by keeping runoffs and to extend their own terms for council, the council voted Tuesday to add yet another referendum to the November ballot. This one would also eliminate RCV, but this time by going to a single round plurality system.
Memphis voters are clear on what they want: 71 percent voted for a charter amendment to replace runoff elections with RCV (locally called “instant runoff) back in 2008. Now they are poised to use it in 2019, and the City Council seems unwilling to accept the new system.
Our earlier research showed how much better RCV is than runoff elections - avoiding the disturb plunges in turnout the city experiences with runoffs. But going to plurality is also highly problematic. Looking at recent Memphis City Council elections show that candidates would often win with small, unrepresentative percentages of their district’s electorate.
In 2015, there were five runoff elections in seven districts. In Districts 4, 5 & 7, no candidate received more than 34 percent of the first round vote. Coupled with the turnout rates from those races, this means that had the elections been conducted using a plurality system, these candidates would have won their seats with the support of only 8 percent, on average, of the electorate.
This clearly isn’t fair representation, and using plurality elections would ensure that candidates could win in the future with not just low general support. Ranked choice voting, on the other hand, makes votes count.
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