After the polls opened last week for early voting, voters in Memphis noticed a few issues with the ballot, including a change in wording for three questions from the sample to the actual ballot.
Carlos Ochoa, the media coordinator for the group Save Instant Runoff Voting Memphis said changing the responses to three Memphis City Council-created referenda from "yes" and "no" to "for" and "against" adds to the already confusing nature of the questions. Ochoa said it's bad for democracy. — Maya Smith
- Carlos Ochoa/Facebook
- Carlos Ochoa, Save Instant Runoff Voting
Memphis Flyer: How would you describe the three referendum ballot questions?
Carlos Ochoa: The ballot questions are written in such a way that people don't know what they're voting on. The council is either trying to intentionally confuse people or are just so out of touch with the average Memphian that they can't write ballot language in a way that everybody can understand. Either way, I'm really reluctant to vote "yes" on the referendums. It's fine to have referendums, but we can at least have ballot language that makes sense to the public.
MF: Thoughts on "yes" and "no" on the sample ballot changing to "for" and "against" on the real thing?
CO: When was the last time you heard someone answer a "shall" question with for and against? It doesn't make any sense from a grammatical standpoint ... I was at the polls today and talked to people on both sides of the aisle of the issue. Most come out saying "that was really confusing; I'm not sure what I just voted on."
MF: Who does Save IRV hold accountable for the confusing language?
CO: It's really the fault of the Shelby County Election Commission, the city council, and to some degree, the people of Memphis for not holding the council accountable for drafting intelligible referendum questions.
MF: What are the broader implications of all of this?
CO: I don't know how it's all going to play out, but I suspect that it's not going to be very good for democracy. People might feel like they aren't capable of participating in these decisions because they can't understand the questions. Just vote "against."
MF: Why is saving IRV important?
CO: There are a lot of reasons why saving IRV is important, but at the end of the day, we already voted on the issue. Personally, I believe it's just a power grab by the council. The council just wants to have a redo instead of implementing IRV and making it better by ironing out all of the kinks. We haven't even given IRV a chance.
MF: What benefit could implementing IRV have for Memphis?
CO: Hopefully, we see an increase in voter participation rate and city council candidates that are more diverse and have stronger ideas about the way to go about changing policy in Memphis.
There's a lot of crises going on, but we only have a few political solutions at our disposal. If we have IRV, then we'd have more voices and more choices. Right now we need as many potential solutions as we can possibly get our hands on.