Ranked Choice Voting in Memphis

posted Jul 20, 2017, 8:03 PM by Aaron Fowles   [ updated Jul 20, 2017, 8:10 PM ]

This is just to share the information that was presented at the Shelby County Election Commission on July 18th.

Linda Phillips, the administrator of elections, shared with the Election Commission a rough description of ranked choice voting, as well as its advantages and disadvantages.  She also worked through some painfully long examples involving people's choices of favorite planets.  Minnesota Public Radio has a pretty good example here.
The city of Memphis voted in 2009 to utilize instant runoff voting (which I will call ranked choice voting and write as RCV) as soon as technology permits.  The problem in Tennessee is that there is no equipment that is certified to tally RCV results.  Therefore, in order to utilize RCV (only in single-member districts like city council), ballots would have to be printed off and either hand-sorted or entered into spreadsheets for analysis in the case that no candidate wins the plurality in the first round.  While this is arduous and time-consuming, it is far easier, cheaper, and faster than holding a runoff.  The 2015 election cost about $900,000, and $360,000 of that was the runoff.  While the runoff took weeks, counting RCV ballots takes days.

Right now, RCV would only apply to single-member city council districts, not super districts, though Linda Phillips admits that one reading of the city charter might require RCV in those districts, as well.  It will take some legislation at the state level during the 2018 session to iron out some of the kinks in the law.  

One of the reasons that RCV is currently limited to municipal elections is that the larger, partisan elections, are already winnowed by party primaries.  If, however, a bill like HB662 ends up passing and the signature requirements for third parties are lowered, there might be more contenders for partisan races and, maybe, we could see RCV utilized in those as well.

All in all, RCV could save the city money on runoff elections for city council races.  In 2019 there will be six seats with no incumbents.  The 2015 race had five runoffs, each one open to an additional cycle of fundraising.  We can assume that there will be runoffs in 2019, so by planning now the city can save money in the future.

There will be some initial costs.  The city will have to pay for additional training, a public mock election, various voter education initiatives, and the printing of paper ballots to be hand sorted according to the RCV methodology.   Even if it costs more to run the first RCV election that it would be to run two separate elections, RCV will allow for greater public input in public representation.  The voter turnout in 2015 was a pretty sad 28%, but the runoff turnout was a depressing 6%.  That means that just 6% of the electorate turned out to vote for five of our city council seats.  That's nearly half the city council.

Ranked Choice Voting is a tool for democracy.  It is imperfect and we will have growing pains, but it's worth it.  We can call on candidates to dedicate a portion of their campaign funds to neutral voter education or we can take that burden on ourselves.

Look below Mulroy's left elbow
Look below Mulroy's left elbow

Keyboard activists needed to input campaign finance data into spreadsheets

posted Jun 13, 2017, 6:17 PM by Aaron Fowles

It's not exciting.  It's not public. It's not going to get you on the news.  It's not a good Facebook post.  It's not quick and easy.  It's not simple. 

It is tedious.  It is meticulous.  It is bad for your eyesight and posture.

But it is also important.

Based on just a cursory examination of campaign finance disclosures, I discovered that 8 out of 13 members of the city council received $3,500 in donations from the Tennessee Realtors PAC during the final days of the campaign.  One councilman received $1,000 directly from Makowsky, Ringel, and Greenberg, which is a party to the Overton Gateway situation.

We need a thorough examination of these documents in order to highlight further financial connections between the Memphis City Council and big business in the area.

I have taken all of the available campaign finance disclosures from the 2015 Memphis City Council race and saved them on Dropbox.  These documents were scanned in and deposited on the Shelby County Election Commission server as PDFs.  These documents are not machine-readable, meaning that you cannot copy and paste from them.  I have rotated the relevant pages to make the document readable without turning your head.

We need people willing to go through and manually type the campaign contribution information into a spreadsheet.  I will then merge those spreadsheets together and we can begin to get a picture of which individuals and corporations are financing campaigns in Memphis.

Please email me at if you are interested in helping.  I can coordinate the efforts so we don't have people manually scanning the same information.

You can see all the documents here:  

You may need to click a link to go beyond the login screen and get to the ZIP file.

If you don't want to do the work but are interested in seeing it done, you can donate to the Green Party so we can hire someone on Fiverr to do the work.

GPSC responds to Jeff Sessions's presence in Memphis

posted May 26, 2017, 4:58 AM by Aaron Fowles   [ updated May 26, 2017, 5:00 AM ]

The Green Party of Shelby County adamantly opposes the minimum sentencing memo written by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his presence in Memphis, which he has singled out in his crusade against the poor and disenfranchised.

The memo suggests that “prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”  He defines the most serious crimes as those which have the greatest statutory sentences.  This memo nullifies existing Justice policy that enabled prosecutors to show a degree of leniency to low-level nonviolent offenders.  The original memo in no way endorsed the restriction of sentencing for violent offenders, so the only change made by the Sessions Memo is the increased criminalization of poverty already underway in the current presidential administration.

This sentencing policy will turn back the clock on municipal and state policies intended to increase the quality of American lives.  Even though the efforts were ultimately undone by a conservative legislature in Nashville, the city of Memphis passed a marijuana decriminalization ordinance that would have unbound the hands of many low-level nonviolent offenders in Memphis.  The Sessions Memo will do nothing but aid our state legislature in its oppressive crackdown on the city of Memphis.

Every argument that AG Sessions has used to support his memo could just as well have been used to support the Obama-era Holder Memo, which laid out very clear conditions under which a prosecutor could seek a more lenient sentence.  AG Sessions is using the violence of drug dealers as a red herring to distract from the true intent of his sentencing guidelines.

The Green Party of Shelby County supports the legalization of marijuana and the treatment of drug addiction as a health issue and not a criminal one.  As AG Sessions himself noted in Memphis, there is an opioid crisis in the United States, and those addicts require help and treatment, but so do addicts of heroin, cocaine, alcohol, tobacco, and even marijuana users who have lost control of their consumption.  

Furthermore, the Green Party of Shelby County endorses a policy of eliminating poverty through a robust public works program, thereby raising the floor under the whole of the citizenry and increasing personal and communal wealth.

City Council Platform Committee

posted May 9, 2017, 8:46 AM by Aaron Fowles   [ updated May 9, 2017, 8:47 AM ]

Hey folks.  We're working now to get ready for a massive move on city council in 2019.  To do this, we need to work on a platform so we can identify specifically what our goals are and how we can move them forward.  

We are having our first work session this Saturday, May 13th at 1pm.  243 Adams.  Free parking.  RSVP here.  

If you are unable to attend the committee meeting, you can join us virtually by submitting your ideas to the city council crowdsource form located below.  You don't need to include your name or email address if you don't want to, but you are welcome to.

In completing this form, it is important to think in terms of solutions, not just problems.  Ideally, you would also think of a source of funding for any solution you come up with.  Here's an example:

Category: Housing
Problem: Poorly kept rental houses
Solution: Rental licensing and registration
Funding: License fees and noncompliance assessments

Memphis City Council Platform Crowdsource

Party Recognition Petition

posted Feb 24, 2017, 11:31 AM by Aaron Fowles   [ updated Feb 24, 2017, 11:34 AM ]

The Green Party of Tennessee is pursuing official recognition by the state of Tennessee.  This requires a petition and, according to current law, about 37,000 signatures.  There is, however, a bill in the legislature now that would lower that requirement to 5,000 signatures.  So, right now, contact your state representative and tell them to support HB0662 and your state senator to support SB0770.

Afterwards, download one of the files at the bottom of this page.  GPTNPARTYRECOGNITION is for any county in Tennessee and GPTNPARTYRECOGNITIONSHELBYCOUNTY is just for, you guessed it, Shelby County.  For each page of the petition, all signatures must be of registered voters from the same county.  Pay close attention to the lines and make sure all signatures are legible.  This is not the time to practice your calligraphy.  Both the signed name and the printed name must be legible, as must be the addresses.  Notice the second address line is City/COUNTY/Zip.

Don't worry about the Page ______ of _______ stuff.  We'll take care of that when we have all the pages in.

Here's an example.

When you have your signatures, send me an email at and I'll let you know the next steps.

You don't need to fill out the whole page, though that'd be great.  If you can only get a few signatures, or even one, that's fine.

Senators Alexander and Corker: Release your call data

posted Feb 6, 2017, 11:35 AM by Aaron Fowles

The Green Party of Shelby County calls on Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to release the tabulated results of the constituent contacts they’ve received over the past three weeks pertaining to the nomination of Betsy DeVos.

One of Senator Corker’s DC staffers, first name Lauren, stated that the majority of phone calls received by Senator Corker have been in opposition to the nomination of DeVos, yet Senator Corker continues to express his support for her and ostensible plans to vote in favor of her nomination.

One of the four pillars of the Green Party is Grassroots Democracy, meaning that citizens should have a voice in how their government is run.  It is clear that even though Senator Corker was elected in Tennessee the constituency now wishes that he vote not with his conscience but with the public interest and therefore to vote against her nomination.  

The Green Party of Shelby County is dedicated to the pursuit of justice through political and nonpolitical means.  All Tennesseans are encouraged to call Senator Corker’s Memphis and DC offices to express their opinion on the nomination of Betsy DeVos.  The vote is scheduled for 11am Central Time on Tuesday, February 7th.  

Solidarity with Arkansas Rising

posted Jan 19, 2017, 11:16 AM by Aaron Fowles   [ updated Jan 19, 2017, 12:23 PM ]

The Green Party of Shelby County expresses its solidarity with and support of the Arkansas Rising water defenders and other activists who joined in their direct action at the Valero Refinery in Memphis on January 16th during the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Diamond Pipeline, a joint venture between Texas corporations Plains All American Pipeline and Valero, is designed to carry unrefined oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Valero Refinery on Presidents Island in Memphis.  Construction began in 2016, and plans call for the pipeline to be operational by 2017.

Arkansas Rising conducted a nonviolent act of civil disobedience by blocking access to the refinery using large barrels filled with concrete and their own bodies.  This action resulted in the arrest of 12 of the activists.  The activists, described as water defenders, guardians, or protectors, were protesting the impact of the pipeline on various water supplies in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee where the pipeline crosses existing waterways, creating the potential for contamination in the event of a leak.  Such a leak in the section nearest to the Valero refinery could ultimately results in the contamination of the Memphis Sand Aquifer.

The Green Party of Shelby County recognizes that the sustainable future of Memphis, the Midsouth, the United States, and indeed the very world lies not in the passive embrace of fossil fuels as the means to an end but instead in the immediate transition to renewable energy to be completed by the year 2030.  Therefore, the Green Party of Shelby County officially stands with Arkansas Rising.

Republicans pushing through wild agenda

posted Jan 9, 2017, 11:30 AM by Aaron Fowles

The Republican congress has wasted no time in gutting consumer protections in the USA.  A bill is zipping around Congress called Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017, which Congressman Collins wittily reduces to the REINS act, as in it's an attempt to rein in the Executive Branch.

Here are some of the actions the Republicans (mostly) in Congress doesn't want the Executive Branch (the President and the host of agencies whose leaders he picks) to be able to take:

First Informational Meeting

posted Dec 1, 2016, 10:59 AM by Aaron Fowles

The time has come for the Green Party of Shelby County to step into the limelight (no pun intended, even though the lime in limelight has nothing to do with the color). 

I do not need to tell you that the 2016 election was an emotional roller coaster ride for everyone, and the result is certainly disappointing for multiple reasons: the President-elect is creating an outlandishly plutocratic cabinet,  the popular vote was overwhelmingly in support of a different candidate, and any progress towards justice initiated over the past 8 years looks like it's going to be rolled back.  This is not to mention the fact that our current president has all but ignored the violence perpetrated upon the water protectors in North Dakota.

So what can we do?

This has become a bit cliche in the past weeks, but it has done so for a reason and thus I will employ it here:  Don't mourn--Organize.

Jill Stein received nearly 2000 votes in Shelby County last month, meaning there are at least 2000 people who are interested in a progressive future for the country, the state, the county, and the city.  If we can capture just a fraction of that voting bloc, we can start something big that will eventually capture that whole bloc and eventually capture whole districts.  We need to start now to increase our visibility, sharpen our message, and gather new members interested in creating a Shelby County we can be proud to call home.

We take our first steps on this journey on Saturday, December 10th from 2-4pm at The Phoenix (1015 S. Cooper St).  A flyer is attached to this email.  Print it and distribute it liberally.  Put a copy at your favorite coffee shop.  Leave one at a bookstore.  Staple it to an electrical pole on your street.

There is a facebook event if you'd like to see who else might be coming:

We'll be talking about our leadership structure, membership, dues, plans, and mission.  We need you to add your voice to this conversation.  We'll record the meeting and make that video available to anyone who is unable to attend the meeting.

There is a flyer attached at the bottom of this page.  Please print and distribute, in color if possible.

See you next Saturday.

Jill Stein Didn't Win

posted Nov 9, 2016, 10:30 AM by Aaron Fowles   [ updated Nov 9, 2016, 11:14 AM ]

As we all know by know, we have a president-elect who doesn't support universal healthcare, free and public education, climate renewal, clean energy, or immigration reform.

That was going to be the case either way.  We knew that going into election night.  As horrifying as it is to know that the president-elect of the United States is the one caught on tape describing his abuse of women and who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, we knew that this election was going to be the beginning of a productive struggle, not the end of one.  

Someone soon is going to say that Jill Stein "spoiled" the election for Hillary Clinton because of the tight margins in Michigan and Wisconsin.  It's malarkey for several reasons:
  1. Third parties may have saved Maine and Colorado for HRC.  Gary Johnson may have saved New Mexico.
  2. It is impossible to tell for whom those voters would have voted had their candidate not been on the ballot, or if they would have voted at all.  
  3. The entire notion of votes defaulting to one candidate completely belies the democratic promise of the Constitution.  There are not very many requirements in the Constitution for the President.  A president must be 35, born in America, and capable of fulfilling the duties of the office.  Nowhere is it written that a president must be wealthy or even have a political party behind them.
  4. Last and not at all least, blaming the Greens for the outcome of this election is nothing more than a cheap attempt at self-exculpation.  I'm going to riff on Nader here a minute.  Disenfranchise voters - blame the Greens.  Closed primaries that don't let independents have a voice - blame the Greens.  Purge of voter rolls - blame the Greens.  Collude with the media and get caught - blame the Greens.  Collude with your own Super PACs to smear the candidate whose supporters you want - blame the Greens.  Talk to bankers about public and private positions - blame the Greens.  Hire a sleazy campaign director who can't handle his emails - blame the Russians first, then the Greens.  Accept dark money from whoever's offering it - blame the Greens.  Maintain closed debates - blame the Greens.  Elevate Donald Trump - blame the Greens.  Hold an election without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act - blame the Greens.  Fifty-five percent turnout - blame the Greens.

So where do we go now, friends?  It is our job now to Get Involved in making this country the kind of place we want it to be.

When I was younger I remember hearing that one of the benefits of voting was being able to complain afterwards if the election did not favor your candidate.  I disagree.  We must move beyond disenchantment, beyond anger, beyond doubt and move into action.  Click on the Get Involved button above and get started.

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