Chancellor Jim Kyle has denied an emergency petition to have three proposed ordinances rewritten or struck from the Nov. 6 election ballot.
The plaintiffs include some candidates eying the October, 2019 City Council elections. They view the language of the ordinances as too confusing for voters to make an informed decision and claim the ordinances would cause them significant harm if they run in 2019.
In a hearing on Thursday, Kyle said the county’s voters have not tested the ordinances, so there is no proof of confusion.
“We don’t have (a) fire and I can’t put it out if I don’t see a fire,” Kyle said.
The ruling came after arguments from several attorneys, including Randall J. Fishman, who represents Erika Sugarmon and other prospective candidates for the City Council in next year’s municipal election, as well as the instant runoff voting support group, Save IRV Inc.
“The voters of Shelby Count deserve to know what they are voting on,” Fishman said.
The most controversial item on the ballot would repeal instant runoff voting. It’s a process where voters rank their candidate choices, making runoff elections unnecessary. It was approved by voters in a 2008 referendum but hasn’t every been put into use.
A second item would eliminate runoff elections altogether and a third referendum would extend mayor and city council term limits to three consecutive, four-year stretches. But it doesn’t say that the current limit is two terms.
Attorney John Ryder, who represented the Shelby County Election Commission, said the proposed ordinances were submitted Aug. 23. After that date, “You get into the election process.”
Early voting begins Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 1. The Election Commission asserted that a ruling in favor of the petition would have required the reprogramming of 1,200 voting machines by Oct. 26.
“The position of the Shelby County Election Commission is we simply can’t do it,” Ryder said.
Allan Wade, who represented the city of Memphis, said the emergency petition did not meet the standards of the law that require that such petitions only be considered in cases where there is no alternative.
Wade said the plaintiffs had plenty of time to contest the proposed ordinances and that the election process has already begun for the Nov. 6 election.
“It is extremely difficult if not impossible for the election to be turned around,” he said. “There simply is not enough time…We’re so close to early voting.”
Kyle said it seemed that the commission gave the same argument when asked to add voting precincts before the last election, but were able to comply with a court order.
He asked why the lawsuit could not be brought later – after the Nov. 6 election but before the municipal election next year.
Voters, Kyle said, may vote down the controversial ordinances in November and, “we may be arguing something that may not come to fruition.” In any case, the voter has a right to change his mind, he said.