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Tabled: primary ballots for city elections on hold

An effort to open Memphis city elections to partisan primaries is in limbo after the item’s sponsor, Memphis City Council member Martavius Jones tabled the proposal indefinitely.

Jones’ move came just before the start of the council’s afternoon session Tuesday (June 21). The ordinance referendum that, if approved, would have been on the November general election ballot, was up for its third and final reading.

Unlike their counterparts in Shelby County, current rules prohibit Democratic and Republican primary elections for city of Memphis office holders. 

Jones’ proposed ordinance would have allowed voters to decide whether they wanted to allow partisan primary elections for the mayor and council members.

Jones’ move drew no objections. A previous vote was delayed by council member Jeff Warren on June 7.

Language in the item also calls for the elections to be governed by “the primary election provision of the Tennessee Election Code or as otherwise authorized by the rules of the party.”

If revived in time – and if voters approve – it would loosen the rules in time for the 2023 city elections. 

The amendment is part of a larger review of the charter’s election rules undertaken by Jones, who is in his final term. 

In May, the council approved a ballot referendum for the Aug. 4 ballot that, if approved by voters, would extend term limits for council members and the mayor from two-consecutive four-year terms to three consecutive four-year terms.

Approval would apply to the current term-limited council members and the mayor, who also is term-limited. A similar referendum was rejected by voters in 2018.

To date, Mayor Jim Strickland has been noncommittal, but has expressed interest in a third term. In any event, the calculus could change if the field is widened through primaries. 

The mayor, along with others, has been vocal in opposition to party primaries in Memphis. 

He also said primaries could complicate local efforts to work with officials in Washington D.C. 

Jones has argued that primaries would give voters a further layer of scrutiny before deciding on a candidate. 


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