Costly run-offs likely to yield few votes

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Memphis is now preparing for run off elections in five City Council races.

If it's like most run offs, very few people will show up. WREG looked into how much these run offs are costing taxpayers and why the Election Commission hasn't implemented a cheaper alternative voted on by citizens 7 years ago. Those who backed the alternative said we're talking about saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

"Is that a run off?" questioned George Barnes.

Barnes thought he was through voting until WREG told him no candidate got more than 50% of the vote in his district.

He plans to vote again, but it's expected many others won't even though the make up of the City Council is undergoing a major overhaul, creating the opportunity to sway votes on important issues like crime and city pensions.

Voter Ray Nolan explained the apathy.

"Because it's time consuming. They're frustrated and they just don't want to come back. They want it to be over with," he said.

Former County Commissioner and law professor Steve Mulroy pushed for an alternative to run offs and voters approved it in 2008, but the Election Commission has yet to implement it. It called for instant run offs. Instead of choosing one candidate on election day, voters would rank them, first choice, second choice, third choice and so on.

"Then, if one candidate won a majority of the vote they would win like any other election. If that wasn't the case then the candidate with the fewest first place votes would be eliminated and then their votes would be redistributed to other candidates based on their second choice," explained Mulroy.

WREG called the Election Commission to find out why the delay. They told us instant run offs won't work with current equipment and Commissioners questioned if state law would permit changing software. Mulroy said North Carolina did it and it worked with similar voting machines. He isn't buying the excuses and said neither should you.

"It's cheaper. It's faster and it's more effective in terms of getting everyone to participate," said Mulroy.

Historically, in the first round of a City Council race you have about a 20% turn out. The second round that number drops down to 5% turnout.

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