Supporter Column by Britney Thornton
In 2008, Memphians overwhelmingly voted to implement a voting method called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). The City hasn’t implemented IRV since that vote but is actively attempting to deprive its supporters from using it. I’m writing today to voice my support for IRV because it’s easy to use and it allows for more women and people of color to participate in the political process than our current voting system, and it was already voted on in 2008 by the people of this city.
Instant Runoff Voting is an electoral system whereby voters rank candidates in order of preference. Candidates will likely engage in more civic outreach as they try to convince voters to rank them as their first as well as second or third choice. This kind of political process helps elect candidates who better reflect the support of a majority of voters. This is just as true when voters must choose more than one candidate such as for city council, state legislature or even Congress. IRV helps to more fairly represent the full range of voter politics. IRV is a more fair, equitable and cost effective way to hold elections.
IRV saves an estimated $250,000 a year by eliminating costly runoff elections. These funds can be better used on voter drives, education campaigns and better polling stations and workers. Candidates also avoid costly runoff elections and can focus on their public policy, community outreach. The fiscal savings aren’t the only reason to prefer IRV over a two-round runoff system.
Instant Runoff Voting gives Memphis an opportunity to elect more women and people of color to political office. In 2018, “Ranked Choice Voting and Racial Minority Voting Rights: An Analysis of Representation of People of Color in the Bay Area”, more women and people of color enter into the political arena under Instant Runoff Voting and win at higher rates. This is likely because more people enter and compete in the political sphere. In a place like Memphis, having more elected officials who look like their electorate is important in building trust, understanding social and economic problems and finding solutions that work for everyone.
IRV eliminates the so-called “spoiler” effect where lesser known candidates “split” a vote. Most famously, Ralph Nader was accused of spoiling the 2004 presidential election when democratic presidential candidate lost to George Bush in Florida and, thus, the United States. Many people who have good public policy ideas can now come forward and engage in meaningful dialogue with people in their communities without worry that they will “split” the vote and allow an undesired candidate to win an election. We need more voices elevated and more choices for voters in Memphis. We are facing very unique challenges and all solutions should be on the table.
And, perhaps most importantly, Memphis already voted on this issue in 2008 and the City Council wants to remove the IRV system without ever allowing for its implementation. The Shelby County Election Commission was supposed to implement IRV in 2019 and the City Council coincidentally decided that the voters should vote on IRV once more despite the fact that the public already overwhelmingly voted in favor of it 10 years ago.
It’s time for the Memphis City Council to fully support Instant Runoff Voting. We need a voting mechanism that makes sense, is fiscally responsible and allows for our elected officials to look like their electorate. And Memphis has already voted on this system once already. Let’s give it a try. I’ll make my voice heard about this issue and I encourage all my fellow Memphians:
on all referenda