Ranked Choice Voting FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)?

A: Ranked choice voting (RCV) is a ranked choice voting system that upholds majority rule by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of choice. Voters know that if their 1st choice does not win, their vote will count for their next choice. Voters can rank as many candidates as they wish without fear that ranking a back-up choice will hurt the chances of their favorite.

Q: How does it work?

A: Votes are first awarded to each voter’s first choice. If no candidate wins 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 have their vote added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the votes in any one round. When a race comes down to two candidates, the winner will be ranked ahead of the loser on most ballots.

Q: Do Voters Understand RCV?
A: Absolutely. For the voters RCV is extremely simple, all the voter has to do is rank one or more candidates. It’s like renting a video or picking an ice cream: What video (or flavor) do you want? That’s your first choice. If they don’t have that video (or flavor), what would you like? That’s your second choice. If they don’t have that, what’s your third pick? That’s all there is to it. Data from actual RCV elections in the U.S. show no overall increase of invalid ballots, with some jurisdictions actually showing a decrease.

Q: How does RCV compare to vote-for-one elections?

A: In vote-for-one plurality elections, if several candidates are running for one office, winners can be elected by a very small portion of the electorate. For instance, in a field of 6 candidates, a candidate could be elected with only 17% of the vote. Vote-for-one plurality elections also create a zero sum game: in order to win, one must take votes from opponents. In these elections, candidates benefit from negative campaigning. With RCV, candidates campaign positively, seeking to be the second choice of their opponents' supporters. RCV also helps to identify strong, consensus candidates.

Q: Where is RCV used?

A: Many places. In the United States, San Francisco (CA), Oakland (CA), St Paul (MN), Minneapolis (MN) and Portland (ME) are examples of communities that use RCV to elect their city offices such as mayor. In the US, over 55 college campuses use RCV to elect their student government. Internationally, Ireland uses RCV to elects its president, Australia to elect its House of Representatives, and London to elect its mayor.

RCV is also recommended by Robert’s Rules of Order for elections, the well-known guide to fair parliamentary procedures, when repeated in-person voting is not feasible. Dozens of major universities use RCV for their student government election. Hundreds of associations use RCV, including the American Political Science Association when electing its president and the Academy of Motion Pictures when electing the Best Picture "Oscar."

Q: Does RCV affect campaign debate?

A: Yes. Because RCV may require second and third choice votes to win, candidates have incentive to focus on the issues, to attract voters to their positions and to form coalitions. Negative campaigning and personal attacks are much less effective in an RCV election.

Q: Is RCV susceptible to strategic voting?

A: RCV is less susceptible to strategic voting than other voting systems. For voters, the most sensible strategy is to do just what the instructions suggest: rank candidates in honest order of preference.