The Memphis City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to seek a referendum repealing instant runoff voting.
Council member Edmund Ford sponsored the repeal of ranked choice voting which would have meant voters would only vote in the general election, picking their first, second, and third candidate choices for council members.
In 2008, voters approved ranked choice voting, but at the time Shelby County Election Commission believed they did not have the proper equipment to put the instant runoff procedure in place.
In late October, the election commission announced its plan to begin enacting ranked choice voting in October 2019, alleviating the need for a runoff election.
With instant runoff voting, the candidate with the majority of first-choice votes would win. If no candidate had the majority, then the person with the least votes would be eliminated. If voter’s first pick was eliminated then their second choice would be added to the recount. Then, the elimination process continues until a single candidate remains.
Representatives with the county’s election commission said eliminating runoffs would save taxpayers' money, as the 2015 council runoff election costs about $360,000, but only had 15,000 of 264,000 voters to turn out.
Members of the public agreed, telling the council that instant runoff is more financially responsible, while increasing voter participation, especially by low-income voters.
Repealing IRV is “voter suppression,” speakers said.
But, council attorney Allan Wade said that IRV will not help the African-American voters, and that protection is already build into the system. When he added that it is “not a civil rights issue,” members of the crowd responded with echoing boos.
Wade said the voters will still have a chance to vote for or against the instant runoff repeal in the November 2018 general election.