Ranked Choice Voting in the U.S.A.: Developments and Debates Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association 2015, San Francisco California

Short Course Co-Sponsored by FairVote and the Section on Representation & Electoral Systems

Wednesday, September 2, 9:00 a.m.-1:00pm.
Hilton Union Square 3 &4.

Growing numbers of American cities use ranked choice voting (RCV, also known as the Alternative Vote, Preferential Voting and Instant Runoff Voting), including San Francisco and three other cities in the Bay Area.  Drawing on international experience, this short course will first explore the theory behind the use of RCV--in both its single-winner form and its multi-winner form (also known as the Single Transferable Vote)--in American elections. Confirmed discussants include Arend Lijphart, Ben Reilly, Jack Vowles, and David Farrell. As part of this discussion, the course will consider the likely future of RCV, structured around the statewide ballot measure that will be presented to voters in Maine in 2016.

The course then will turn to emergent American experience with the system, exploring how scholars have made use of the increasing amount of data available on voter turnout and cognition, residual votes, candidate strategy and campaign tone under RCV. Scholars will report on novel approaches that were adopted to study RCV elections in 2013 and 2014 involving public opinion polling, content analysis and analysis of “ballot image” data from seven cities using RCV and 14 control cities. Todd Donovan and Caroline Tolbert will report on the results of the comprehensive public opinion survey of voters in RCV and control jurisdictions exploring voters’ experiences and attitudes toward RCV and alternative systems.  The decades of experience in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with multi-winner RCV will also be explored.

The final session in the course addresses key areas of controversy over RCV. We will hear from scholars, including Corey Cook and Jason McDaniel, who have expressed caution about RCV and turnout, impact on racial minorities and lower-SES voters, civil discourse, transparency and administrative practicalities.


9:00 - 9:20   Welcome and Summary of Rising Interest in Ranked Choice Voting - Rob Richie

9:20- 10:30 Lessons for the USA from International Experience with RCV, Chair – Rob Richie

  • Sarah John – Overview of international use in governmental and party elections 
  • David Farrell - Lessons for the United States from Ireland’s experience
  • Benjamin Reilly – Lessons for the United States from Australia and the Pacific 
  • Jack Vowles – Lessons from the Introduction of Single Transferable Vote in New Zealand local elections 
  • Arend Lijphart – How international experience informs American reform choices  

10:45 - 11:45 New Approaches to Studying the Emergent American Experience with RCV, Chair - Rob Richie

  • Caroline Tolbert – Report on polls of likely voters on their experiences with RCV 
  • Todd Donovan – Report on candidate surveys about RCV experience 
  • Sarah John – Report on other strands of research into RCV 
  • Jack Santucci - Mid-century Coalition Politics of RCV-Elected City Councils  

12:00 – 12:45: Cautionary Notes about RCV in Practice in US Cities, Chair – Sarah John

  • Corey Cook – Data-driven analysis of Bay Area experience 
  • Jason McDaniel – Data on San Francisco experience
  • Christopher Jerdonek -- Comments and analysis of Bay Area RCV election data
  • Rob Richie – Comments and his analysis of Bay Area RCV election data

12:45 - Close and Final Remarks, Rob Richie

For information about the event, please contact Sarah John at sjohn [at] fairvote [dot] org