About Ranked Choice Voting

What is RCV?

Ranked Choice Voting is a voting system that allows voters to rank candidates on a ballot in order of preference rather than choosing one candidate.

How does it work?

Under common ranked choice voting systems, voters can rank up to three, five, or ten candidates in order of preference—first choice, second choice, third choice, fourth choice, and so on—instead of voting for just one candidate. Ranking other candidates does not harm a voter’s first choice, and voters can still vote for just one candidate if they prefer.

To determine the winner of the election, add up all the first-choice votes for each candidate.  If one candidate receives more than 50% of the first-choice votes, they win the election outright.

But if no candidate gets more than 50% of the first-choice votes, then counting occurs in rounds. In each round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the votes for that candidate are transferred to the next-highest ranked candidate (if any) on each ballot. In other words, if your first-choice candidate gets eliminated, your vote goes to your second-choice candidate instead, and so on. This round-by-round process repeats until only two candidates remain, and the candidate with the most votes between the two wins the election.

What are the benefits of RCV compared to our current first-past-the-post (plurality) system?

Ensures winning candidates have greater support

Ranked choice voting gives voters more say in who gets elected by reducing wasted votes and allowing voters to express more preferences on their ballot. In our current plurality system, where voters only choose one candidate, candidates win with 40%, 30%, or sometimes even 20% of the vote. 

With RCV, voters can rank multiple candidates, and, because voters are transferred from losing candidates to winning ones, the candidate with greater support from the electorate wins.

Minimizes strategic voting and the spoiler effect

Ranked choice voting eliminates the spoiler effect and allows voters to express their preferences without settling for the “lesser of two evils.” In our plurality current system, if your favorite candidate is unlikely to win, some urge you to cast a “safe” vote for one of the front-runners to avoid electing the one you like least.

With RCV, you can rank your favorite candidate first, and even if your first choice does not win, you can still help choose the winner by ranking other candidates your second, third, fourth (and so on) choices.

Promotes diverse candidates

Ranked choice voting has led to more diverse and representative candidates running in and winning elections, and it removes the fear of vote splitting by voting blocs.

Studies by Representation 2020 found that, in four California cities, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro, RCV did not have a negative impact on the candidacy rates for women and people of color and also increased the probability that candidates in these groups would win elections, compared to plurality elections.

Curbs negative campaigning

Ranked choice voting can lead to more civility and less negative campaigning. 

Academic researchers conducted voter surveys in three RCV jurisdictions in 2013—Minneapolis, MN; St. Paul, MN; and Cambridge, MA.

They found that these voters perceived fewer negative campaigns than voters in plurality jurisdictions, hypothesizing that, with RCV, candidates are encouraged to build broader coalitions of voters and align with opponents who share their same views in order to garner second and third choice votes.

Ensures winning candidates have greater support

Ranked choice voting gives voters more say in who gets elected by reducing wasted votes and allowing voters to express more preferences on their ballot. In our current plurality system, where voters only choose one candidate, candidates win with 40%, 30%, or sometimes even 20% of the vote. 

With RCV, voters can rank multiple candidates, and, because voters are transferred from losing candidates to winning ones, the candidate with greater support from the electorate wins.

Minimizes strategic voting and the spoiler effect

Ranked choice voting eliminates the spoiler effect and allows voters to express their preferences without settling for the “lesser of two evils.” In our plurality current system, if your favorite candidate is unlikely to win, some urge you to cast a “safe” vote for one of the front-runners to avoid electing the one you like least.

With RCV, you can rank your favorite candidate first, and even if your first choice does not win, you can still help choose the winner by ranking other candidates your second, third, fourth (and so on) choices.

Promotes diverse candidates

Ranked choice voting has led to more diverse and representative candidates running in and winning elections, and it removes the fear of vote splitting by voting blocs.

Studies by Representation 2020 found that, in four California cities, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro, RCV did not have a negative impact on the candidacy rates for women and people of color and also increased the probability that candidates in these groups would win elections, compared to plurality elections.

Curbs negative campaigning

Ranked choice voting can lead to more civility and less negative campaigning. 

Academic researchers conducted voter surveys in three RCV jurisdictions in 2013—Minneapolis, MN; St. Paul, MN; and Cambridge, MA.

They found that these voters perceived fewer negative campaigns than voters in plurality jurisdictions, hypothesizing that, with RCV, candidates are encouraged to build broader coalitions of voters and align with opponents who share their same views in order to garner second and third choice votes.