Instant Runoff Voting hits another snag in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Three months after Shelby County voters affirmed their support for Instant Runoff Voting, the state has issued an order blocking it.

Election officials say they're caught between a rock and a hard place as state and local laws conflict.

Even celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence chimed in when the battle over Instant Runoff Voting heated up before a referendum on the November 2018 ballot. In that election, voters once again reinforced their support for instant runoff voting, which is a way to avoid runoff elections and instead have voters rank their favorite candidates in order all at one time.

"It's time somebody in Memphis acts on what the people have already voted for," said Aaron Fowles works with FairVote Tennessee.

The group wants to make sure Instant Runoff Voting, or "rank choice voting," gets implemented, preferably before Memphis municipal elections in October.

But they've hit a roadblock.

"The voters obviously want to continue IRV. State law says no. There's a conflict there," said Linda Phillips, administrator of the Shelby County Election Commission.

Phillips said she asked for the declaratory order from the state coordinator of elections to help clarify the issue.

That order came out late Friday, and it wasn't a surprise. It read: "Instant runoff voting is not consistent with the general election laws of the state."

"I don't know what the Election Commission will choose to do. We'll be discussing that tomorrow at the regular commission meeting," Phillips said.

She says the options include a lawsuit against the state.

That's exactly what Fowles wants to see happen.

"We fully expect the Shelby County Election Commission to appeal this decision to Chancery Court to give an actual judge the opinion to rule on this. And, hopefully, our local elected officials will listen to the will of the voters," he said.

But it's unclear if any of it will happen before October.

Officials say even if they do implement instant runoff voting, there's another issue. The city would have to pass an ordinance for how it would work.

In the past, council members have been opposed to instant runoff voting. But before they think about that, they have to get through Tuesday's meeting at 4 p.m.

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