Memphis voters voted in 2008 by an overwhelming margin to use RCV for municipal elections and reaffirmed their preference by voting against two repeal referendums in 2018. RCV would affect each municipal office differently.
RCV Impact on Local Elections
Ranked Choice Voting will impact different elections in different ways.
Mayor and City Clerk
The City of Memphis used to require mayoral candidates to receive a majority of votes in order to be elected. If no candidate received a majority in the general election, a runoff was held. In 1991, Judge Jerome Turner found that runoff elections disproportionately disenfranchised minority voters, who were less likely to make it back to the polls, and eliminated runoffs for citywide elections.
The result is that Memphis now has a plurality system for mayor where the winning candidate does not need to win a majority of votes. RCV would yield a majority candidate from a crowded field with a single visit to the polls. To fully implement the will of the voters as expressed in the 2008 referendum, the consent decree would need to be modified.
Single-member council districts
The seven single-member council districts maintained the runoff requirement after the consent decree. Historically, there is an 80% dropoff between the general and the runoff elections, and that dropoff is concentrated in low-income communities of color. RCV would allow voters to express their preferences with just one trip to the ballot box.
RCV in the superdistricts can be achieved two ways. Under the current charter, the three positions can each be run as a separate RCV election for a single member. Alternatively, the Memphis charter can be amended to create two 3-member districts whose representatives are elected using Single Transferable Vote (a form of RCV) to achieve proportional representation. The second option is far simpler and more democratic, but would require an amendment to the city charter, since the current charter specifically lists the superdistrict seats as being separate. RCV would yield 3 candidates who reflect the diversity of the superdistrict.