Advances for Ranked Choice Voting Coast to Coast
Win for IRV in NC and progress in NY, OH, CA, TN and more
In North Carolina, the state legislature on July 18 sent to the governor legislation to extend the current pilot program for IRV in localities in the wake of highly successful IRV elections in 2007 and an endorsement from the League of Women Voters of NC. In Memphis (TN), a charter commission has placed IRV on the November ballot, one among several upcoming IRV measures around the nation. In Long Beach (CA), the Long Beach Press Telegram endorsed the city election director's proposal for IRV.  This fall's five leading candidates for president all have been active supporters of IRV, while the student-run Roosevelt Institution's new25 Ideas for Electoral Reform features two proposals for instant runoff voting.

The Cincinnati NAACP is promoting a 2008 ballot measure to enact the choice voting method of proportional voting for city council elections, while lawyers for the Brennan Center for Justice this month will present FairVote’s amicus briefs arguing for choice voting in a federal voting rights case in Port Chester (NY).

[NC Votes 1-2-3, a strong coalition of organizations and individuals supporting IRV in North Carolina]

[Long Beach Press Telegram editorial endorsing IRV for Long Beach, CA]
[Roosevelt Institution]
[Cincinnati NAACP]
[Brennan Center for Justice]
[FairVote's amicus brief from the Port Chester (NY) voting rights case]
[See FairVote Executive Director Rob Richie's blog for more on this progress]

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Charter Club
After last week's election, the city of Memphis charts a new course
Published November 13th 2008 in Memphis Flyer

Last Wednesday afternoon, City Council and Charter Commission chair Myron Lowery was "grinning like a Cheshire cat."

Barack Obama had won the presidency the night before and every single one of the Charter Commission's referenda had been approved by more than 70 percent of local voters. The amendments to the city charter included term limits for the mayor and council, staggered terms for the council, and suspensions with pay for officials charged with misconduct.

A proposal that would require a public referendum prior to a sale of the city's MLGW division — the idea that was the birth of the Charter Commission process — was approved by 80 percent of the voters.

"We did go over every piece of data we got from the public," said Charter Commission member Sylvia Cox. "The votes show that what was on the ballot was very acceptable to the people of this city."

After more than 50 Charter Commission meetings and seven public hearings, Lowery was optimistic about the outcome prior to the election.

"The only issue that came from an individual was instant run-off voting," Lowery said. "That came from [county commissioner] Steve Mulroy, but it gained wide support. Every other issue was a community-based issue."

Instant run-off voting, which allows voters to rank candidates and eliminate run-off elections, was approved with 71 percent of the vote.

"We made history nationally, and I think it's fair to say we made history locally," Mulroy told Charter Commission members at a meeting last week. "We achieved election reform that will change the way Memphis democracy goes forward for years to come."

Mulroy, who appeared in television and radio advertisements advocating instant run-off voting, argued that instant run-offs would be more fair and more efficient. The change is expected to save $250,000 annually.

Proponents also have argued that instant run-off voting makes candidates run cleaner campaigns. Call it the "Miss Congeniality" strategy.

"I think it puts Memphis on the map of a growing number of cities using innovative voting strategies," Mulroy said. "Voters wanted change, and they didn't just want change for change's sake. They wanted reform."

Instant run-off voting is now in the hands of the Election Commission, which needs to buy new equipment that can accommodate voter rankings. After last week's election, where the country knew who the new president was before local results were in, there is some skepticism about the Election Commission's capacity for change.

"Their activities were simply atrocious, waiting as long as they did," Lowery said. "Instant run-off voting will become effective whenever the Shelby County Election Commission wants to implement it. This is left to their discretion as to when they receive the hardware and software to make it happen."

The Charter Commission will cease to exist December 31st, but their work isn't done yet. A proposed version of the charter is available online at, and Lowery expects both lawyers (including former city attorneys Robert Spence and Sara Hall) and citizens to review the document.

"If we agree with the final document, we will have a new city charter. If we don't, we'll have a hodgepodge of stuff like we already have," Lowery said.

And there are still questions about what the implications of the changes will be. At a Change Memphis forum prior to the election, citizens asked whether termed-out councilmembers would be allowed to switch districts and run again. Another question was if the percentage of voters needed to recall a councilmember is derived from the total number of citizens who voted in the previous election or from the number of voters from the councilmember's district.

At the Charter Commission meeting, member Willie Brooks asked about the provision that would suspend officials charged with misconduct from their official duties. Because each citizen has four representatives on the council — one from their home district and three from their superdistrict — a suspended councilmember might not make that much of a difference. But the measure also covers other elected and appointed officials, such as the city court clerk.

"Should an elected official be suspended, it doesn't say who assumes those roles," Brooks pointed out. "We're not removing them from office."

The commission now has recommended that the City Council look at the issue.

"At the beginning we said we could not answer every 'What if?' And we did not attempt to answer every minute question," Lowery said. "Every eventuality cannot be considered by this commission."

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