Memphis City Council Seeks to Undermine 2008 and 2018 Election Results

Featured

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

carlos@rankedchoicetn.org

901-248-7915 ex.1

http://www.rankedchoicetn.org

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Background

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.

Timeline:

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

June

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

Memphis

Background

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.

Superdistricts

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.