Ranked Choice Voting

What is Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked choice voting (RCV) describes voting systems that allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference, and then uses those rankings to elect candidates able to combine strong first choice support with the ability to earn second and third choice support. RCV  is an "instant runoff" when electing one candidate and is a form of fair representation voting when used in multi-winner elections. See our Glossary.   

Ranked choice voting has a profound impact on governance and elections. It allows voters to have significant choices while rewarding candidates who reach out to more voters positively, rather than relying on hostile negative campaigning, as described in this video of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who won election in an RCV race in 2013.



Ranked Choice Voting:

  • Gives voters the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their most preferred candidate.
  • Empowers voters with more meaningful choice.
  • Minimizes strategic voting.
  • Creates a positive atmosphere where candidates campaign to the voters rather than against each other. 

By maximizing the power of voters and choice among candidates, ranked choice voting creates a more representative democracy.

Click here for more information on RCV. Also read the results of our comprehensive two year study of the impact of RCV on campaign cooperation and civility in local elections, conducted between 2013-2015 with a core team of academics and the Eagleton Poll at Rutgers University.

To see how RCV can work to make the U.S. House of Representatives a truly effective and representative body, see our model Ranked Choice Voting Act for Congress.

Hear What Elected Officials Have To Say About Ranked Choice Voting


How Ranked Choice Voting Works in Single-Winner and Multi-Winner Elections 

Instant Runoff Voting and Fair Representation Systems 

Mike Griffin State Fair

Whether being used to elect a single winner (like for mayor or governor) or to elect multiple winners (like a city council or state legislators in a multi-seat district), ranked choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference and then uses those rankings to elect candidates with broad support. In either case, every voter has exactly one vote, and the rankings determine which candidates that one vote will count for in each round of counting.


Single Seat Ranked Choice Voting 

In a single seat ranked choice voting election, sometimes called instant runoff voting, votes are first distributed by first choices. If no candidate has more than half of those votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the active votes or only two candidates remain. The candidate with a majority among the active candidates is declared the winner.

Resources on Instant Runoff Voting

Multi-Seat Ranked Choice Voting Elections (Fair Representation Voting)

Ranked choice voting for multi-seat elections is a form of fair-representation voting. This means candidates who receive a certain share of votes will be elected; this share of votes is called the threshold. A candidate who reaches the threshold is elected, and any excess votes over the threshold are then counted for the voters’ second choices. Then, after excess votes are redistributed, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes counted for their second choice. This process continues until all seats are filled.



Choice Voting: An American Form of Proportional Representation  

cambridgeChoice voting refers to the use of ranked choice voting in multi-seat elections. It is an American, candidate-based form of proportional representation that allows like-minded voters to elect candidates in proportion to their share of the vote in multi-member constituencies. Through choice voting, like-minded groupings of voters win legislative seats in better proportion to their share of the population. Whereas winner-take-all elections award 100% of power to a 50.1% majority, choice voting allows voters in a minority to win a fair share of representation.


Top Four Elections: A Better Alternative to the Jungle Primary 

ResizedImage600400 golden gate bridgeThe "Top Two" system has gained attention as a means of addressing political issues through election reform. Unfortunately, Top Two severely limits voter choice, and evidence suggests that it does not accomplish its stated goals well. For states using or considering Top Two, FairVote recommends a ranked choice alternative: Top Four. Simply advance four candidates instead of two, and conduct the general election by ranked choice voting!

Click here to read more about Top Four.  


Featured Blog Posts

  • Continuing Electoral Reforms in Trinidad and Tobago

    September 15, 2014

    2010 Election Map

    Hot on the heels of electoral reforms last year, small Caribbean island nation Trinidad and Tobago has abandoned plurality voting in favor of runoff voting in its national elections. FairVote is keeping close watch on Trinidad and Tobago, as political parties, legislators and citizens continue to discuss voting systems, including ranked choice voting and fair representation voting, and agitate for reform.

  • A Push for Open General Elections in Nevada: Top Three with IRV

    August 12, 2014

    nevadaA nascent movement for inclusive electoral reform has been steadily growing in Nevada, and it deserves more attention and support.

RCV News Releases

  • Top Two in California Primaries, June 2012: By the Numbers

    June 13, 2012

    On June 5, California held its first "top two" primary in races for Congress and state legislature. All candidates competed against one another. Voters cast one vote, and the top two finishers advanced. FairVote today released an analysis of the primaries based on a series of disturbing numbers. 

Where RCV is Used

Instant runoff voting (the one-winner form of ranked choice voting) is used on the municipal, state, and national level in governments around the world, as well as by non-governmental organizations and corporations.