The will of the people prevailed in Memphis on Tuesday as voters successfully defended their wish for more fair and democratic elections.
The Memphis City Council’s attempted repeal of ranked choice voting (RCV) - locally known as instant runoff voting - was defeated with a whopping 62 percent of votes cast rejecting the proposal. Council-created ballot questions to extend term limits and repeal all forms of runoff elections were also overwhelmingly shot down.
As Carlos Ochoa, of grassroots advocacy group Save Instant Runoff Voting Memphis, told The Commercial Appeal, “These landslide victories demonstrate, again, that Memphians understand and support [instant runoff voting].”
Memphis voters approved RCV for city elections in 2008, but implementation was delayed due to logistical hold-ups with election equipment, among other factors.
The council’s attempted repeal came on the heels of news that equipment issues were resolved, enabling ranked ballots for the 2019 city elections. Threatened by the fast-approaching change, council members balked, propping up their proposed repeal with inaccurate concerns.
But voters proved at the ballot box that they understood and supported RCV, reminding the council that ranked choice voting is the way forward to a better democracy.
The triumph story for ranked choice voting in Memphis is reminiscent of Maine, where the will of voters prevailed despite opposition, securing Maine’s role in leading the reform by becoming the first state to use ranked ballots to elect federal representatives. Massachusetts appears poised for a similar success after an advisory question on RCV on the ballots in several municipalities earned support from more than 60 percent of voters.
Meanwhile, Memphis will prepare for its first-ever ranked choice voting elections in 2019, replacing the costly and low turnout runoffs that have long disenfranchised voters with single “instant” runoff that elects leaders who the people truly want.
The results in Memphis reflect a pattern sweeping the country, as voters from Maine to California push for more choices and more say at the ballot box. The ranked choice voting revolution has begun, and we are confident that as Memphis joins with Maine, Minneapolis, Santa Fe, the Bay Area, the reform - and our democracy - will only grow stronger.
Illustration by Mikhaila Markham