1.   What is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)?

Like the current primary-general election system, Ranked Choice Voting is a runoff method of voting, but requires only one election instead of two. RCV enables voters to rank candidates in order of preference: first choice, second choice, third choice, etc. Voters rank their preferences knowing that if their first-choice candidate is eliminated in the “runoff” (first round of ballot counting), their second choice will count. If no candidate receives a majority of first choices, the least popular candidate is defeated and votes for that candidate are reassigned to remaining choices based on the second preferences on those ballots. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of continuing ballots. As a result, every vote counts and very few votes are wasted. Voters are empowered to vote their conscience without worrying about “playing the spoiler” or “wasting” their vote.

RCV is a simple, commonsense reform that mandates elected officials have broad support and allows for more–and more diverse–candidates to run for office, giving voters more choice and more power in the ballot box. No voting system is perfect, but RCV is a more effective and cost-efficient way to elect candidates with a mandate from a majority of voters. 

2.   What is the problem? 

Low turnout August primaries is a problem generally (just 7 percent compared to 81 percent in the General Election in the 2016 Rochester elections). Low turnout in municipal races in the primaries is an even bigger problem (in the Ward 3 2016 primary, turnout was just 4.5%, compared to 82 percent in the General Election). Further, primary turnout is typically even lower for communities of color. Holding municipal elections along with other, higher turnout state and federal partisan elections, doesn’t boost participation in municipal primaries. The table below shows the difference in turnout in competitive local primary races since 2006. 

Municipal Primary versus General Election Turnout in Rochester

Office

Year

Candidates in primary

Primary Turnout

General Turnout

Increase over primary

Mayor

2006

4

8,325

36,108

434%

Ward 3

2006

4

1,270

5,909

465%

Ward 2

2008

6

1,698

8,021

472%

Ward 4

2008

3

919

4,900

533%

Ward 6 

2008

3

1,240

6,080

490%

At-large

2008

4

7,208

41,594

577%

Ward 3

2010

3

1,433

6,096

425%

Ward 5

2010

5

2,173

5,708

263%

Mayor

2014

3

9,156

34,125

373%

Ward 6 

2016

3

894

7,336

821%

Average

 

 

 

 

485%

On average, turnout in the General Election is nearly five times (486 percent) greater. In the most recent 2016 competitive ward 6 race, it was more than six times greater. Participation is significantly higher in the November general elections compared to the primaries, when the field is prematurely culled by a small sliver of unrepresentative voters. 

RCV reduces these voting disparity gaps by eliminating the primary for municipal races in favor of a single decisive election in November when turnout is higher, more diverse and more representative. It gives candidates a level playing field and gives an equal voice to all voters in November.  

3.   So, there would be no primary in August for city races?

That's correct. However, there would still be primaries for the state and federal partisan races. For the city races, using RCV in the General Election would ensure the will of the majority prevails in a single, higher turnout and more representative election. 

4.   How do I mark my ballot under RCV?

You simply fill in the first-choice oval next to your favorite candidate, the second-choice oval next to your second favorite, and so on. You can rank as many – or as few – as you like. However, the more candidates you rank, the greater the chance that your vote will help to elect someone you like and prevent the election of a candidate you dislike. In other words, try to rank enough candidates so that at least one makes it to the final round of counting. Under RCV, you can vote for your favorite candidate without fear that your vote will be “wasted” because you are assured if your first choice candidate doesn’t garner enough votes to win, your vote will count toward your second choice.

5.   How are the ballots counted?

RCV ballots are counted in rounds. If no one candidate receives a majority of votes (50 percent + 1), the least popular candidate is defeated and those ballots are reassigned to remaining candidates based on the second choice on those ballots. This process continues until one candidate reaches the winning threshold. See a helpful video and learn more about RCV's use in Minneapolis and St. Paul at www.rankyourvote.org. Also, see the Minneapolis How RCV Works video and easy-to-follow visual presentation of the 2017 results on the Minneapolis Elections website (click on Final RCV Tabulation for the various races). 

6.   Can I “bullet vote” for just one candidate under RCV?

You are free to vote for only one candidate. However, if that candidate is less popular than the other candidates and is eliminated in the first round, you will not have a backup candidate to count in the next round. This choice would be analogous to voting in a primary but not in the general election if your favorite candidate doesn't make it through the first election. That's why it's in your best interest to rank as many candidates as you wish, rather than "bullet voting” for just your top favored candidate. Voting for the same candidate more than once is the same as voting for them just once: your ballot will count for your first choice as long as that candidate remains in the race.

7.   Does RCV give some voters more votes than others?

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 ruled that RCV fully complies with the principle of "one person, one vote" and gives equal weight to each voter.

8.    Can someone win without a majority of votes? 

Winning candidates always have a majority of ballots continuing in the final round. In most cases, this is a majority of initial ballots cast, but not always as some voters have only one or two preferences. If those voters' candidates are no longer in contention, then their ballots are exhausted and the threshold is reduced to reflect the number of continuing ballots. It is the preference of the voter how many candidates he or she wishes to rank and their ballot counts the way they want it to. 

9.   Can someone who places second in the first round become the winner? 

Yes, this can happen, just as the second place finisher in the current primary can win the General Election. An example of this is Councilmember Randy Staver’s 2010 election in which he placed second in the primary and won the General Election. The point of doing a runoff, whether traditional or instant, is to determine the preference of the majority of voters. RCV does this in a single, higher turnout and more representative November election. 

10.  Some say that RCV is too complicated. Is this true? 

No, this is a misinformed myth. The reality is that with proper education to ensure voters know about the change on the ballot, all groups of voters find RCV easy to understand and simple to use. In the first citywide test of RCV in Minneapolis in 2013, nearly 90 percent of voters ranked their ballots and 85 percent of polled voters – across all income, ethnic and age groups – said they found RCV simple to use. In 2017, a full 92 percent of Minneapolis voters said RCV was simple to use. 

More than two-thirds of voters said they were familiar with RCV before going to the polls in Minneapolis. Similar rates of understanding and ease of use are seen in St. Paul and in cities across the country where RCV is used. RCV has been rolled out very smoothly in the Twin Cities and elsewhere, and there’s no reason to believe Rochester would be any different. Nonprofit organizations, including the League of Women Voters and FairVote Minnesota, would assist in conducting community voter education to ensure voters are aware of the change and prepared to rank their ballots. Click on the following links to hear what voters had to say about their experience using RCV in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 2017: Minneapolis Saint Paul

11. Does RCV foster more diversity?

Yes, in the 2017 elections in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the cities saw historically diverse fields of candidates and winners in the mayoral, council and park board races. This was possible because there was no early August primary to prematurely winnow the field, and by allowing voters to cast their ballot sincerely, i.e., for their favorite candidate without worrying about wasting their vote or helping elect the candidate they like the least. Listen to what candidates of color, both those who won and those who lost, had to say about their experience running under RCV in 2017.

12.  Does RCV lead to higher voter participation and turnout?

RCV automatically increases voter participation in the election of the winner by rolling the low-turnout primary into a single decisive election in November when turnout is higher and more diverse. We are also seeing RCV have a positive impact on turnout in November, with voter turnout numbers at nearly 20-year highs in Minneapolis and St. Paul this year. This is attributable, in part, to more competitive races with multiple candidates, all of whom engaged voters and brought them out to the polls. Contrary to concerns that RCV would cause voter confusion, polled voters found RCV simple to use and happy with the diverse slate of candidates. This helped drive higher turnout. 

13.  Will new equipment be needed to conduct RCV elections?

Not anymore. Olmsted County upgraded its aging equipment before the 2018 elections with new ES&S DS200 machines, according to the Olmstead County Elections Office. These are the same RCV-capable machines used in Minneapolis. These machines can read a ranked ballot, create a data file of rankings and export a data file of rankings for independent tabulation. Automatic tabulation software is anticipated by the next election cycle, but should the software not be certified by the time Rochester implements RCV, the city can use the existing expedited method Minneapolis uses to complete the tabulation of races that are not decided in the first round. In 2017, Minneapolis completed tabulation of all 22 races in one day. 

14.  Do RCV ballots have a lot of errors?

No, RCV elections do not have significantly more errors than traditional elections. In the 2013 and 2017 Minneapolis mayoral elections, fewer than half of one percent of all ballots cast in the mayoral races had errors, resulting in a nearly 100 valid ballot rate. Note that in any election, voters who make a mistake on their ballot have the opportunity to do it again. Ballots that are are incorrectly marked and recast are called spoiled ballots.  

15.  Can you mix ranked and non-ranked offices in the same election?

Yes, while Minneapolis and St. Paul hold odd-year elections for municipal offices, most RCV elections across the country are held in even years with state and federal elections. Combining ranked and traditional elections has not been a problem or led to higher ballot errors. In fact, in most jurisdictions, Rochester included, ballots include a mix of voting styles already in single and multiple seat at-large races. In St. Paul, the ballot includes ranking for municipal offices and non-ranking (vote for up to 3) for school board races and this has not been a problem at all. 

While voters have not had a problem with marking mixed ballots, there are ballot design considerations to ensure conformity with guidelines in state law for even-year elections and compatibility with the new ES&S DS 200 voting machines and software.  

16. Does RCV really help tone down negative campaigning?

Yes, switching to RCV has led to an increase in substantive, issue-based campaigning and a decrease in negativity and mudslinging in elections across the country, including Minnesota. In the highly competitive 2013 and 2017 races, candidates clearly stood apart on some issues and found common ground on others, without resorting to attacks. While negative campaigning isn’t as frequent in local elections as it is in state or federal partisan races, it does happen and RCV discourages that behavior. In fact, in RCV elections, attacks frequently backfire, resulting in losses of votes for candidates who engage in that behavior. This also holds true when attacks are perpetrated by PACS and Independent Expenditures working on behalf of candidates. 

17.  Will RCV result in a ballot with too many candidates?

This concern has arisen following the long list of candidates in the 2013 mayoral race in Minneapolis. This was an anomaly and unlikely to occur again in Minneapolis, and is highly unlikely in smaller cities like Rochester. The large number of candidates in 2013 was the result of that year being the first competitive open mayoral race in 12 years, coupled with no party endorsements and a very low filing fee. The city has since implemented a requirement to collect a minimum number of signatures or pay a higher filing fee. The result in 2017 was a much smaller list of filed candidates for mayor this year. In council races, the number of candidates running in an open or competitive race is typically between three and five.

18.  Does RCV favor one party over another?

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 that is truly representative. Furthermore, RCV has been endorsed by political leaders from all parties.

19.  Does RCV affect party endorsements?

No. Under RCV, as in traditional elections, some candidates will receive endorsements and some will 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.

20.  How would RCV be adopted in Rochester?

Like Minneapolis and St. Paul, Rochester has a city charter that can be amended to allow for a different voting system. The charter can be amended by a unanimous vote by the City Council as a recommendation by the Charter Commission or via referendum in the November election. A question proposing RCV for city elections could be placed on the ballot through a majority vote of the Charter Commission or City Council, or by a petition of the voters. Regardless of how the question is placed on the ballot, it must be approved 17 weeks before the November election, according to state law. Note, this change impacts only mayoral and city council races; not elections for school board, governor, state legislature, or Congress.

21.  Where else is RCV used?

Ranked Choice Voting is a long-standing and proven voting system used in democracies across the world, including Australia, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and London. It is used in several U.S. jurisdictions, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, San Portland, (MA), San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro (CA), Telluride (CO) and Takoma Park (MD). RCV is pending implementation in Sarasota (FL), Benton County (OR), Santa Fe (NM), and Memphis (TN). Cities in Michigan, Colorado, Oregon, New York, Washington, Maryland, Nevada and elsewhere are exploring RCV now. Maine became the first state to adopt RCV for state and federal elections beginning in 2018. Several other states use RVC for military and overseas voting: South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Illinois and Louisiana.

22.  How can I learn more about Ranked Choice Voting? 

More information about RCV can be found on the FairVote Minnesota websites: www.fairvotemn.org and www.rankyourvote.org, and by following FairVote Minnesota on Facebook and Twitter