Lawsuit accuses Memphis ballot measures of confusing voters

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A lawsuit has been filed against the city and the Shelby County Election Commission accusing three city referendums up for a vote in November of confusing voters.

"They're down right misleading," plaintiff and former city council candidate Erika Sugarmon says. "And we wonder why we have apathetic voters."

Of main concern is an item that would repeal instant runoff voting. It's a process where voters rank their candidate choices, making runoff elections unnecessary, and it was approved by voters in a 2008 referendum but hasn't ever been put into place.

The new referendum doesn't include an estimate on runoff election costs but the lawsuit says the city has to include one, per state law.

"So the taxpayer will know if I do this it's going to cost 'x' amount of dollars," said Randy Fishman, attorney for the plaintiffs.

The city's finance director says an estimate isn't possible even though one was allegedly included back in 2008 when the concept was approved by voters.

"I don't know why they couldn't make one now," Fishman says.

Adding to the confusion is a second item that would eliminate runoff elections all together.

"So, conceivably, they both could pass and they would be at heads with one and other," Fishman says.

A third referendum would extend mayor and city council term limits to three consecutive, four-year stretches. However, it doesn't say what the current limit is — which is two.

"So, really what they're asking the voters to do is to extend the term limits by one," Fishman says, "It's a fair referendum when the public is aware of what they're really asking."

The lawsuit wants all these items re-written.

"All we seek to do is have them make sense," Fishman says.

The city is analyzing the lawsuit and has no further comment at this time.

A hearing is set in Chancery Court next week.