Ranked Choice Voting (sometimes referred to as Instant Runoff Voting) is a method of voting in which voters rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference – first, second, third, and so on. Voters can cast their vote for the candidate they truly prefer knowing that if he or she doesn’t garner enough votes to move on to the next round, their ballot will count toward their second choice. This simple voting method gives voters more choice by eliminating the spoiler dynamic and leveling the playing field for all candidates.
Ranked Choice Voting is a simple reform that produces more civil, inclusive, participatory and representative outcomes than the current first-past-the-post system.
By allowing voters to express their true preferences instead of voting for the “lesser of two evils,” RCV:
- Eliminates "wasted" votes.
- Solves the "spoiler" problem and gives voters more choice.
- Increases voter participation.
By allowing voters to rank their votes, RCV:
- Simulates a runoff in a single, cost-effective election ensuring candidates win with the broadest support possible rather than simply being the first to “past the post.”
- Rolls two elections into one, eliminating the need for low-turnout, costly primaries in local nonpartisan elections and runoffs in state and federal partisan primaries and general elections to ensure majority outcomes.
By eliminating local nonpartisan primaries, RCV:
- Reduces the cost of running campaigns and elections.
- Eliminates the opportunity for a small group of voter to prematurely winnow the field of candidates in a low-turnout, early August primary.
- Gives voters more choice and an equal voice in a single, high-turnout, diverse election in November.
By leveling the playing field for all candidates, RCV:
- Opens the political process to new voices.
- Promotes more diverse political representation.
- Increases opportunity for traditionally underrepresented communities.
By requiring candidates to seek voters’ second-choice support, RCV:
- Rewards candidates who appeal to a broad base of voters.
- Reduces the incentive for candidates to attack their opponents and promotes more civil, issue-oriented campaigns.
- Results in office-holders who more fully represent the views and desires of a broad swath of voters.
- Fosters coalition-building and compromise.
Here in Minnesota, RCV is used in Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s also used in San Francisco and Oakland, CA, Takoma Park, MD, and in 2016, voters in Maine elected to use it statewide! It’s also used in Australia, Ireland, Scotland, and London. Additionally, many states – including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina for military and overseas voters.
No. Every voter gets an equal vote. In every round of counting, every ballot counts as one vote for the highest-ranked candidate still in the running. If your candidate is still viable, your vote will count for your favorite candidate in the runoff round. If your candidate has been eliminated, just as in a traditional runoff election, you need to settle for one of the remaining candidates. Your vote automatically counts for whichever continuing candidate you prefer. The mistaken impression that some voters get more votes than others was the basis for a legal challenge to RCV in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that RCV fully complies with the principle of "one person, one vote" and gives equal weight to each voter.
No. An independent study performed by St. Cloud State University in 2009 reported that 95% of Minneapolis voters found ranked choice voting easy to use; and 97% of voters of color found using a Ranked Choice ballot simple. There is simply no evidence to support the claim that minority voters felt disenfranchised after using Ranked Choice Voting.
More recently, in the 2013 citywide mayoral RCV election in Minneapolis, exit polling by Edison Research showed that a whopping 85% of voters found RCV simple to use, including 82% of people of color. Additionally, 88% of voters ranked their ballots and more than two-thirds were familiar with RCV before going to the polls. The effective ballot rate was 99.95%, meaning that virtually every voter filled out his or her ballot correctly and had their vote counted.
In contrast, RCV has been shown to enfranchise communities of color by eliminating low-turnout primary elections – which are attended by disproportionately older, whiter, and more affluent voters than the general election. For example, in 2005 (before RCV was enacted), general election turnout was nearly three times greater than primary turnout (8 percent compared to 21 percent) in Ward 5 – which is predominantly people of color – compared to two times greater for the city overall (15 percent to 30 percent). RCV mitigates this inequity by holding one election in November, when turnout is higher and more diverse. And in San Francisco, where RCV has been in use for several years, effective voter participation has increased as high as 300 percent in traditionally low-turnout precincts.
No. The large number of candidates on the 2013 ballot for Minneapolis mayor was a result of the first competitive open mayoral race in 12 years coupled with no party endorsements and a very low filing fee for a city as large as Minneapolis. The city has since implemented a requirement to collect a minimum number of signatures or pay a higher filing fee, similar to St. Paul, so voters won’t likely see such a long ballot again. In council races, the number of candidates running in an open or competitive race is typically between three and five.
Yes, this is possible -- just like when a candidate who places second in the primary goes on to win the general election. RCV simply combines two elections into one, which simulates a two-round election. Instead of voting in two different elections, voters only have to go to the poll once, where they rank their ballots. Rounds of counting occur until one candidate (in a single-seat race) reaches the winning threshold. The candidate with the most first choices often wins, but it’s not uncommon for the candidate who places second in the initial round of counting to emerge as the winner.
No, RCV doesn’t favor any political party; it simply ensures that outcomes reflect the will of the majority of voters. RCV is all about increasing the range of viable choice for voters by eliminating the fear of spoiler candidates, regardless of party affiliation. That’s just good, smart democracy. Furthermore, political leaders from all parties have endorsed RCV.
No, party endorsements continue the same as they always have under RCV: some will result in an endorsement and some not. Parties may consider using RCV for their endorsement process and providing their members with a ranked slate of candidates. While a party would provide backing only to its endorsed candidate, providing its members with a ranked ballot gives the party more influence over how its members rank all the way down the ballot.
There is growing evidence that RCV can reduce the influence of money in campaigns. In the 2013 Minneapolis mayoral race, Mayor Betsy Hodges was outspent 3 to 1 by her leading opponent. Similar disparities in campaign spending by candidates and their PACs have been seen in other races elsewhere in the United States. Why? Because most of the big money raised directly by campaigns, PACs, or Independent Expenditures is used for negative TV ads or mailings. These are not only unhelpful in an RCV campaign, but can actually backfire. This was seen in the Ward 2 council race in St. Paul in 2015, in which Independent Expenditure organizations sent a very negative mailer against the winning candidate. Attack tactics like this may work under the traditional system, but are not successful under RCV.
Currently, only cities which have their own charter in Minnesota, i.e., charter or home rule cities, can adopt RCV without legislative approval. According to Minnesota Statute 410.12, an amendment to a city’s charter can be proposed for voter consideration in one of three ways:
- Through a majority vote of the charter commission
- Through a petition signed by 5 percent of voters in the most recent state election year
- Through a majority vote of the city council (the council could approve an amendment by a unanimous vote)
FairVote Minnesota has been working to pass a bipartisan-supported Local Options bill which would grant any local nonpartisan jurisdictions without a charter – a city, school district, county or township – the authority to use RCV if they so choose.
Contact us at email@example.com. if you'd like to help start a ballot measure to bring RCV to your community.
Yes. RCV is an instant runoff system that compels candidates in a single-seat race to campaign toward a majority of voters and win with broad popular support. In a multi-seat race, RCV ensures majority rule while also providing opportunity for minority representation.
Regarding the concern that RCV does not produce majority winners, the winner (in a single-seat race) is always the candidate with the majority of continuing ballots in the final round, if not of the total ballots cast. Some ballots may be exhausted before the final round of counting if that voter chose not to rank either of the final two candidates; in that case, the winner may not receive a majority of total initial ballots cast.
Voters are encouraged to rank as many preferences as they have and some will choose to rank only one or two choices. This is a voter’s preference, and should not be misconstrued that the voter did not understand the system or have their vote counted. The ballot counted the way the voter wanted it to be counted.
This varies by municipality. In Minneapolis, voters can rank up to three choices. In St. Paul, they can rank up to six. These differences are due to voting equipment. The city of Minneapolis has updated its voting equipment since the 2013 mayoral race and is currently working toward an updated ballot design and additional rankings.
Hennepin and Ramsey Counties recently replaced their aging voting equipment with new RCV-compatible machines. Counties across the state will do the same in the coming years. These new machines are able to deliver fast results. They can read a ranked ballot, create a data file of rankings, and export a data file of rankings for independent tabulation. Instant tabulation is anticipated for the 2017 elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Other systems were analyzed as part of an exhaustive two-year study of alternative voting systems by the League of Women Voters of Minnesota in 2003-2004, and only RCV was endorsed by the statewide membership for local and state elections. This has been true of studies by the League in other states that have backed RCV, but not approval voting or other systems. Under approval voting, a candidate can lose despite being the first choice of more than half of voters. There is no such thing as a perfect voting system, and democracy will always be a work in progress. But, RCV is a proven system that offers the qualities FairVote Minnesota and other electoral reform advocates value in our democracy — it upholds majority rule, eliminates spoiler dynamics, minimizes wasted votes, fosters inclusiveness and civility, and broadens representation.