Friday, December 01, 2017

Save IRV!

UPDATE 12/3:  Hat tip to Gale Jones Carson, who reminds us that this is only applicable to the seven DISTRICT City Council races and NOT to the Super District Races.

This, from friend of the blog Professor Steve Mulroy:

One sad lesson we’ve learned from the last half century is that when officials make voting less convenient, participation suffers generally, but particularly among persons of color, the poor, and the disabled.  Whether it’s photo ID, voter purges, or restricting early voting, the pattern holds.
                  A similar voter suppression effort is at work here in Memphis, where the City Council wants to repeal Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).  The key Council vote is December 5.
Lately, City Council voters have had to vote in a first round election in October.  If no one candidate gets a majority, they have to come back 6 weeks later for a runoff election between the top two candidates. 
                  Non-political insiders often don’t know that there’s a second election, or are otherwise unable to make it to the polls.  While 28% of Memphis voters vote in the first round, only 5% of voters have their voices heard in the final, decisive round.  Sometimes, only hundreds of votes make the difference.
                  This 5% of voters is disproportionately white and affluent.  The pattern holds.
                  In 2008, a people-driven, citizen-initiative process elected a City Charter Commission, which unanimously endorsed IRV as a solution to this problem.  In a citywide referendum, Memphians voted 71% for IRV.
                  Under IRV, voters can mark their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choices for City Council. If no candidate gets a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Each ballot for that candidate is reassigned to other candidates based on what that ballot had for 2nd choice.  This process continues until someone has a majority.  (See
                  IRV lets people vote just one time, without an expensive, unnecessary, low-turnout second election.   It’s been endorsed by Barack Obama, and Jesse Jackson. Locally , the local Black Lives Matter organization has recently endorsed it for Memphis, along with other progressive groups like the local Democratic Party, Democratic Women, the Central Labor Council, and the Green Party.
IRV also opens the door for first-time, lesser-known, lesser-funded candidates.  You don’t have to worry about “throwing away your vote” on your underdog favorite: you can vote for that candidate 1st, and hedge your bets with a “safer,” more established candidate 2nd.   In the 12 U.S. cities where it’s been used over the last few decades, it has resulted in the election of more female candidates, third party candidates, and candidates of color.
No wonder, then, that the establishment resists it.  Our former election administrator declined to implement it for 9 years. The Secretary of State, a longtime opponent, has questioned its legality (despite several local legal opinions from 2008 to the contrary). 
And now, just when a new election administrator has decided to implement it in the 2019 Memphis elections, the City Council plans to place a repeal referendum on the 2018 ballot—before we’ve even had a chance to try it once. Worse, some establishment oriented civil rights leaders, taking their lead from black incumbents, have echoed them.
Let the people decide, they say—even though the people have already decided, and those in power have resisted. 
IRV is too confusing for Memphians, they say—even though voters in other cities have managed it just fine.
Our local election administrators can’t be trusted to handle it, they say—even though the method to be used in 2019 (manual count of paper ballot images) is more transparent than our current computerized “black box” voting machines, and the method has been used successfully for years in Minneapolis and St Paul.

Memphis deserves better.  Before December 5, contact the City Council at and tell them to respect the people’s vote and give IRV a chance.  Maybe this time, the pattern won’t hold.

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