Ranked Choice Voting: What Is It?

What Is It?

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a simple change to voting that has the potential to transform our hyper-partisan, dysfunctional political system.

This is how RCV works:

Instead of picking one candidate, you can vote for candidates in the order of your preference – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. If one candidate gets a majority (more than 50%), that candidate wins. If no one gets a majority, the weakest candidate is eliminated, and those ballots are transferred to the voters’ second choices. The process continues by eliminating the weakest candidate until one candidate gets a majority. RCV is also referred to as “instant run-off.”

Why is RCV Better?

In many local and state elections with more than two candidates, the winner often gets less than 50% of the vote. In other words, candidates often get elected who are opposed by a majority of voters. For example, in Maine, nine of the 11 gubernatorial elections between 1994 and 2014 were won with less than 50% of votes.(https://www.fairvote.org/rcv#problems_rcv_can_help_solve)

The main benefit of RCV is that it eliminates the “spoiler effect” because it guarantees that the winner is supported by the majority.

RCV also discourages a choice between “the lesser of two evils.” Under the current system, if your favorite candidate is unlikely to win, you have a lose-lose choice. You can either cast a safe, strategic vote for one of the front-runners or vote for your favorite anyway, even though you know it will only be symbolic. With RCV, you can safely vote for your favorite, knowing that it will still count towards your second favorite candidate, if the first is eliminated. (Voter Choice Mass. website.)

Because RCV eliminates the “spoiler effect,” more candidates are encouraged to run without fear of splitting the vote, resulting in a more diverse field of candidates. A study of four Bay Area cities with Ranked Choice Voting found women and people of color are running and winning office more often than they are in cities without RCV. (Voter Choice Mass. website.)

Another wonderful benefit of RCV is that it cuts back on negative campaigning. Who isn’t fed up with the toxic campaign rhetoric that has replaced a serious discussion of the issues? With RCV, candidates who reach out to as many voters as possible with positive ideas tend to be more successful. Candidates who conduct negative campaigns are likely to lose crucial 2nd and 3rd choice voters they need to gain votes in later rounds of voting. (Voter Choice Mass. website.)

Where is RCV Used?

Ranked Choice Voting has been enacted or used for political elections in 25 states.

The State of Maine uses Ranked Choice Voting to elect candidates to the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and in party primaries for state offices. Five more states use Ranked Choice Voting for military and overseas voters to participate in runoff elections: Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Major political parties use RCV in four states. Eighteen U.S. cities have enacted Ranked Choice Voting for their local elections: including Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN; Oakland and San Francisco, CA; Takoma Park, MD; Basalt and Telluride, CO; Memphis, TN; Santa Fe, NM; Sarasota, FL; Ferndale, MI; Amherst, MA; Cambridge, MA; and many more. (https://www.fairvote.org/where_is_ranked_choice_voting_used)

Hover over the map below to learn about RCV enactments and proposals around the country.

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