Ranked Choice Voting Basics: Alameda County 2010

In November 2010, voters in Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro will use Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) to elect a number of city officials.  This sensible system, which has been used in San Francisco since 2004, upholds majority rule in one trip to the polls.  Here is an explanation of how to vote using RCV and how ballots are counted.


How to mark your ballot: It's as easy as 1-2-3

  • You rank your top three choices in order of preference: 1, 2, 3
  • You can rank just your top choice or your top 2 choices.
  • You should rank 3 candidates if you prefer those candidates to the rest of the candidates.  Keep in mind that your 2nd and 3rd choices will never hurt your 1st choice candidate.


How ballots are counted: It's an "instant runoff"

RCV is also called instant runoff voting because of how the count works.

  • Every voter has one vote in each race. No vote ever counts for more than 1 candidate at a time.
  • In the 1st round, all 1st choices are counted as 1 vote each. If a candidate wins a majority of these votes, then that candidate is declared the winner.
  • If no candidate wins a majority of the 1st choices, we hold an instant runoff. The candidate in last place is eliminated from the contest. Any ballot ranking the eliminated candidate as a 1st choice is then counted for the candidate ranked 2nd on that ballot. These ballots are added to the totals of the remaining candidates.
  • If any candidate has a majority of the votes after the second round, then that candidate is declared the winner. If there is still no majority winner, then we hold another instant runoff after eliminating the new last-place candidate. This process of tallying votes, eliminating last place candidates and re-tallying votes continues until we have a winner.
  • The winner will always earn more than 50% of the final round vote.

How results will be released

This year, ballots will be counted and released according to the following process:

  • Voters who cast ballots at the polls will have their votes counted at the precinct where they vote
  • Ballots submitted by mail will be counted at a central location and then added to the totals counted at the precincts
  • First-choice results will be released at the same time as results from all non-RCV races
  • When the Registrar of Voters chooses, the RCV tally (including 2nd and 3rd choice votes) will be run. The Registrar has said that this will be done no later than Friday after the elections.


More Resources

Alameda County Registrar of Voters: Official Ranked Choice Voting Site

Click here to watch experts discuss the impact of Ranked Choice Voting in San Francisco

Instantrunoff.com - For more information on Ranked Choice/Instant Runoff Voting

More on RCV from FairVote