Memphis City Council Seeks to Undermine 2008 and 2018 Election Results

For Immediate Release

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (June 24, 2019) – Legal documents show that Memphis City Council attorney Allan Wade is actively working to impede the implementation of ranked choice voting (RCV), an issue which has been decided by Memphis voters in both 2008 and 2018. Wade argues in legal documents that RCV cannot be implemented in Memphis because the Memphis City Council has not provided policy guidance to the Shelby County Election Commission (SCEC), despite the fact that Wade himself has had the request for guidance in his possession since at least July 2018. Rather than working diligently to fulfill their civic duty, the City Council and its lawyers are working to undermine the outcome of local elections.

Wade’s attempt to obstruct the election results was presaged by the Tennessee Election Coordinator, Mark Goins. Mr. Goins, an appointed official, issued an opinion shortly after the 2018 election that RCV does not comply with state law and that a planned 2019 implementation could not occur. That opinion is being challenged by several plaintiffs in an administrative petition for declaratory order. Two additional plaintiffs, Ranked Choice Tennessee (RCTN) and City Council candidate Britney Thornton, have moved to intervene in the case.

Upon notice of RCTN and Ms. Thornton’s petition to intervene, Mr. Wade quickly drafted a legal strategy to prevent their participation. In doing so, Wade attempted to obstruct the results of the 2008 and 2018 elections by stating that 1) RCV cannot be implemented because 2) the City Council has not provided the requested policy guidance to the SCEC. Rather than advising his clients to fulfill their civic responsibilities, Wade argues the council have not, cannot or will not follow the law as outlined in the Memphis City Charter. 

The City Council either instructed Wade’s actions or are oblivious to them. Either way, the Memphis City Council must be held accountable for carrying out the results of the 2008 and 2018 elections. They must follow the law.

Many questions remain about the City Council’s attempt to circumvent election results:

  • What do the City Councilmembers know about Wade’s attempt to overturn the 2008 and 2018 election results and when did they know it?
  • How much taxpayer money is Allan Wade being paid to obstruct election results?
  • Will the City Council provide the SCEC with RCV policy guidance for swift implementation in the case a chancery judge rules for a 2019 RCV election? 
  • What good are elections if they change nothing?

Ranked Choice Tennessee calls on the City Council to provide the SCEC with policy guidance and to rein in their lawyer’s obstruction of the 2008 and 2018 election results. By doing so, City Council members have an opportunity to rebuild trust with the people of Memphis.

Contact Carlos Ochoa for more information. 

Carlos Ochoa

Communications Director

Ranked Choice Tennessee


901-248-7915 ex.1




In 2008, voters approved a City charter amendment that would allow for ranked choice voting in Memphis municipal elections as a way to increase voter participation. After 10 years, the City Council attempted to repeal that amendment in the 2018 elections with two referendum questions. That repeal was defeated and voters once again voiced their preference for ranked choice voting. 

On December 12, 2017, the Shelby County Election Commission filed an administrative petition for declaratory order on Mark Goins, the state’s election coordinator. An administrative petition is a formal way of asking for an official declaration. It is important to note that in this process Mark Goins would himself be a party and a decider. Save IRV Inc and other petitioners (who were considering running for city council in 2019) attempted to intervene (become official parties) in the case on July 13, 2018. Allan Wade moved to intervene on July 16, 2018. Save IRV Inc and its fellow petitioners were denied intervention on the basis that they had waited too long to intervene. Allan Wade, as attorney for the Memphis City Council, was allowed to intervene.

Since they were denied intervention in the administrative case, Save IRV Inc and the other petitioners attempted to take the case directly to Chancery Court, where a judge could make a binding ruling on the merits. We are confident, based upon a well-researched opinion issued by the Donati Law Firm, that RCV fully complies with Tennessee state law. The Chancery judge, however, ruled that the plaintiffs had not yet exhausted their administrative remedies and dismissed the case.

Mark Goins issued his nonbinding opinion, from the July 2018 case, in February of 2019. The Shelby County Election Commission declined to appeal the case to Chancery Court. As a result, several potential city council candidates have filed another administrative petition for declaratory order, fully expecting Mark Goins to give a similar opinion and then to appeal the issue to Chancery Court. 

Despite having already introduced arguments into evidence in the 2018 case, city council attorney Allan Wade is attempting to intervene in this new administrative case and has gone so far as to request that the judge dismiss the case all together. Wade claims that the city council is representing the best interests of Memphis citizens despite the fact that Memphis citizens have voted in favor of ranked choice voting three times in two record-turnout elections.

Ranked Choice Tennessee and another potential city council candidate are attempting to intervene (again, become parties) in this new administrative case. Allan Wade is spending his time, and Memphis taxpayer dollars, attempting to block that intervention.


2008Memphis votes to amend City charter to allow for ranked choice voting in municipal elections.
2017Linda Phillips announces she is planning on using RCV in the 2019 election.
In response, the Memphis City Council put a repeal referendum on the Nov 18 ballot
2018City Council hires Ingram Group, a lobbying firm, to draft and pass anti-ranked choice voting legislation that would have prohibited it state-wide. This effort was defeated.
City Council places two referendum questions on the 2018 ballot designed to repeal the 2008 charter amendment.
City Council spends $40,000 of taxpayer dollars on a one-sided educational campaign designed to tell voters to repeal ranked choice voting.
The two questions are defeated on election day.
2019Tennessee Secretary of State Mark Goins issues a non-legally binding opinion that claims ranked choice voting does not comply with state law.
That opinion is challenged in an administrative petition for declaratory judgement with hopes of a 2019 implementation of RCV in 2019 City Council elections

Ranked Choice Tennessee Discusses State and Local Electoral Reforms

Media Advisory
Ranked Choice Tennessee Discusses State and Local Electoral Reforms
For Immediate Release

Ranked Choice Tennessee (RCTN) will discuss the results of the Nashville Metro Council vote regarding Resolution RS2019-1617 (as amended). This resolution was introduced last year and re-introduced in 2019 by councilman David Rosenberg and is set to be voted on again on April 16th, 2019. RCTN will also discuss the status of Tennessee HB 599 / SB 970, which would give the four largest cities in Tennessee the option to reform their local elections by adopting ranked choice voting. RCTN will provide context for these electoral reforms and how state and local legislation will create positive changes to the ways in which elections are conducted in Tennessee’s four largest cities. Updates from RCTN and David Rosenberg will be given and questions will be taken on the steps of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County Historic Courthouse Plaza.

Who: Ranked Choice Tennessee and David Rosenberg, Metro Council Member District 35
What: Press Conference
When: Wednesday April 17th, 2019 11:00 AM
Where: Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County Historic Courthouse Plaza, Nashville, TN 37201
Why: These electoral reforms could have a significant impact on state and local elections.

Contact Ranked Choice Tennessee Communication Director Carlos Ochoa for more information: carlos@rankedchoicetn.org, 901-248-7915 ex. 1 or visit www.rankedchoicetn.org/presskit to learn more about the history and mechanics of ranked choice voting.

Why Democracy Reform

By Aaron Fowles

The Amazon is on fire. Gun-enabled domestic terrorism is on the rise. Families are being torn apart at the border. An end to war is nowhere in sight. We find ourselves inching ever closer to ethical and financial collapse.

In the midst of all of these crises and looming catastrophes, I’m going to try to convince you to care about democracy reform.

For context, I am the Program Director of Ranked Choice Tennessee, an organization dedicated to education and advocacy about Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a voting system that allows voters to rank their candidates in order of preference instead of picking just one. Election administrators can use this data to find a candidate with majority support with just one trip to the polls, even from a crowded field.

I recently wrestled with the question: Why democracy reform? I’m fully aware of the scope of crisis weighing down on us, yet I choose to spend my time and energy pursuing a small change to the way we vote. Why?

Here’s the best answer I could come up with: voting is the most popular civic act, so it makes sense to start there. Most people don’t volunteer to pick up trash. Most people don’t attend rallies. Most people don’t send letters or postcards to their elected officials. People all over the world are busy with their own personal lives, struggling in their own ways to make ends meet and put food on the table–but they will vote.

That’s the whole basis of our representative system, isn’t it? We go out every now and then, cast our ballots, and then rely on the people elected to represent us in the large-scale discussions and policy decisions that affect our lives. We even entrust these representatives with a portion of our income to effect the policies that they deem best for us. It’s the civic equivalent of using a slow cooker: set it and forget it.

We shouldn’t have to bombard representatives with postcards. We shouldn’t have to fight special interests to get our representatives to care about us and work for our benefit. In a perfect world, our government would truly be of the people, by the people, and for the people. Looking around, however, it becomes evident that this is not the case. We have governments at every level that do not resemble their constituencies, do not work in their favor, and do not listen to the voters.

Let’s look at Memphis as an example. The city has a population of about 650,000. In 2015, there were about 364,000 registered voters and about 102,000 of them voted for a turnout rate of about 28%. 

What could 102,000 people do if they dedicated themselves to cleaning up the city, or improving education, or reducing crime, or providing opportunities for youth? We’d have a brand new city.

Most people won’t do those things, but they will vote for people who they expect to do those things for them, therefore it is worth exploring just how effective electoral systems are in measuring the intent of the populace.

Again, let’s use Memphis as an example. The races for mayor and city court clerk are both plurality races, meaning that whoever gets the most votes wins, even if the winner didn’t receive a majority (50% +1). The same plurality rule applies to the two super districts, each of which sends 3 members to the city council. Here’s the winning percentage of each of those races:

City Court Clerk26.15%
Super district 8-169.26%
Super district 8-276.86%
Super district 8-344.95%
Super district 9-169.98%
Super district 9-247.23%
Super district 9-361.21%

We can see that in half of the plurality races, the winner was the person for whom most people did not vote. This should give us pause, because if the winner of the election is not chosen by the majority of the voters, then who does that winner actually represent?

For context, the elections that did obtain majority results were all elections with incumbents. The elections that were decided by a mere plurality were all open races with multiple candidates.

The single member districts, of which there are 7 in Memphis, didn’t fare much better in 2015. Two districts had incumbents and were both won win majority results. The remaining races, however, did not achieve a majority results and so were sent to a runoff election between the top two candidates in each race. Turnout in those races dropped by 78%.

Screenshot 2019-09-10 at 09.27.30

What’s more, that turnout dropped more in areas of low median household income. The first map shows runoff turnout as a function of the turnout in the general. Darker shading means better turnout. The second map shows median household income. Darker shading means higher median income.

You can see from the maps that areas of higher median household income have better runoff turnout.

Why might that be? In Memphis we have two weeks of early voting and a good number of satellite locations. Why didn’t people who live in areas of lower median household income come back out to vote?

Some people I’ve spoken with have said it is because people who live in low-income areas don’t care about voting. I find it difficult to believe this because the map shows dropoff as a function of people who had already come out to vote once.

Some people say the problem is lack of transportation. To illustrate, here is a map showing how far someone can travel by bus from the Fedex Hub, a major employer in Memphis.

Screenshot 2019-09-10 at 09.30.21

The smallest circle shows how far a rider can travel in 30 minutes. Assuming the potential voter has a 1 hour break, she would have to get a bus at the right time, ride it for about 15 minutes, get in line to vote, vote, get back on the bus at just the right time, and ride 15 minutes back to work.

That’s unrealistic.

Equally unrealistic is expecting someone who relies on public transit to conveniently stop at an early voting site on the way to or from work. The bus system simply does not provide adequate coverage

Maybe transportation is the issue. Maybe child care is the issue. Maybe not having time off between 2 or 3 part-time jobs is the issue.

Frankly, I don’t care what the issue is. The dropoff is real and ranked choice voting, a vital democracy reform, can solve it.

Why are low turnout elections a threat?

OK, so there’s low turnout, now what? Why should we care that people are getting elected in low turnout elections, so far as they win a majority of the votes that are cast? 

Thinking about this question got me thinking about a word from Greek: polisPolis is, as I understand, the root for words like policy and politics. It originally referred to a city or a group of citizens.

Do you remember learning about sampling in elementary school? If there were a large bin filled with orange and blue marbles, for example, you could grab a random handful and use that small sample to determine the ratio of orange marbles to blue marbles in the entire bin. This assumption works if the sample is representative of the whole.

If the “sample” of runoff voters were representative of the “whole” of general voters, runoffs would not be a problem. The polis would be represented. If, on the other hand, the runoff voters are not representative of the general voters, we are faced with the situation of one polis making decisions for another. 

In the era of data-driven campaigning, candidates know who their likely voters are and are able to focus their resources on them. This rather vicious spiral actually drives more people outside of the electoral process. If candidates know whom to target to get elected, they know whom they have to please to get re-elected. 

Ranked Choice Voting, a simple democracy reform, would change the equation completely. Candidates would need to reach out to the entire constituency, not a data-driven sliver, in order to win. Once in office, they would benefit not from catering to an elite few, but from serving the entire polis

And this is why I focus on democracy reform. In our representative system, we entrust a vast amount of power and resources to a select few. Our current system of conducting elections does not promise to select the correct few. A small and simple change can yield dramatic effects of representation, which can yield dramatic policy shifts and positive outcomes.

Memphis City Council Quick Takes!

Local Memphians asking the City Council on Tuesday August 20th why they continue to prevent the will of the people. The sitting Council is using their lawyer to attack the Memphis City charter.  

Aaron Fowles

Steve Mulroy

Britney Thornton

It’s absolutely clear that the Council continues to increase voter distrust of the electoral process.  It’s clear that the Council is using their lawyer to attack the City Charter.  It is clear that the Council is wildly out of touch with the voters.

More than speeches

Folks, it’s going to take more than speeches to get the city council to do the right thing. We need you to choose your own adventure to help us out:

  1. Write a letter to the editor supporting ranked choice voting
  2. Call the council and tell them to get out of the way and let RCV progress – 901-636-6786
  3. Donate to Ranked Choice Tennessee so we can continue to fight for this essential reform
  4. Volunteer with us to get the word out to more people
  5. Become an RCTN Trainer to help us teach more people about RCV.


What is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)

RCV is an electoral reform that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. These rankings are then used to elect candidates with the broadest appeal.

How does RCV work?

RCV works just like any election that requires a majority to win with exception of one small change: candidate rankings.

But first, let’s talk about how current elections work.

Current Municipal Elections

Most municipal elections require a majority vote to win.  This means that candidates must receive 50%+1 of the vote to win during a general election.  If no candidate win’s a majority of the vote, then a runoff between the top two popular candidates is triggered 6 weeks after the general election. The top two candidates must continue their campaigning and often need to raise additional funds to do so.

The problem with runoff elections is that turnout plummets.  In Memphis in 2015, 65,000 voters participated in the general election in 5 City Council races but only 15,000 showed up for the runoff. It’s not the only place where turnout drops.

How RCV differs from current elections

Under an RCV elections, candidates rank their choices in order of preference.  The first candidate to receive 50%+1, a majority, of the 1st place votes win the election.  This is exactly the same as current municipal elections.

However, if no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and that voter’s 2nd choice becomes their 1st choice and the total is tallied and repeated until a clear majority winner emerges.  RCV is just like a runoff election but it happens instantly.

Memphis voted to use RCV in 2008 but appointed bureaucrats slow walked its implementation for 11 years.  Implementation will likely be 2023.

Why RCV?

America is better when more people participate in the electoral process.  By combining the general election with the runoff election coupled with voter education and outreach, more people have better government representation.

RCV is a method of electing a majority consensus candidate that saves taxpayers money, includes more people in elections and encourages positive campaigning.

And, if you live in Memphis, Tennessee, it’s the law.



June 7 – LWV First FridayNashville

June 8 – People’s ConventionMemphis

June 12 – League of Women Voters First Friday Part 2 – Nashville

June 15th – Juneteenth Celebration tabling event- Memphis

Ranked Choice Tennessee will host events across the state of Tennessee throughout the month of June.

June 19 – Voter education Community Pie Chattanooga

June 22 – Voter Education and Engagement Knoxville

June 22 – Voter Education Event in Memphis (10 minutes)

June 26-27 – Dem Primary Debate Watch party – Memphis