In 2008, Memphis, Tennessee adopted ranked choice voting (RCV) by a landslide, with 70 percent of voters in favor of a city charter amendment. RCV, also known as instant runoff voting, allows voters to rank candidates in order of choice and eliminates the need for runoff elections.
Under the charter amendment, RCV was supposed to go into effect with the 2011 city election unless the election commission found voting machine limitations that would make it unfeasible to do so. After the RCV charter amendment was passed, the Shelby County Election Commission came to the conclusion that their voting systems could not yet accommodate the new method. Ten years after RCV was approved by voters, the Shelby County Election Commission finally plans to begin RCV for council elections in October 2019.
In June 2016, the Shelby County Election Commission hired Linda Phillips as the new election coordinator for the county. Phillips has indicated that Memphis can implement RCV in time for its 2019 elections. She conducted a public presentation and hearing on RCV on July 20, 2017. From now until the 2019 election, the Election Commission plans to employ “lots of voter education” on how RCV works. This Fall, the election commission will try out RCV via “in-house” mock election involving commission staff members only, and a second mock election involving the public will take place later. Although a workaround solution could be used to conduct the RCV election on current voting equipment in 2019, Phillips has indicated that hand counting will be the preferred method until 2022, when the Election Commission plans to invest in new voting machines.
The implementation of RCV saves taxpayers approximately $250,000 a year on election costs. Eliminating low turnout runoff elections will also ensure winners are selected in a higher turnout contest. Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee and could set a great example of how RCV could ultimately have an impact on state elections as a whole.