What Is Ranked-Choice Voting?
Ranked-choice voting is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates in order of preference on their ballots, instead of choosing only one candidate. In a ranked-choice voting system, if no candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the voters’ second-preference choices. This process is repeated until one candidate receives a majority of the votes.
Ranked-choice voting is also known as instant-runoff voting, preferential voting, or single transferable vote. It is used in several countries around the world, including Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand, and is also gaining popularity in the United States, where it has been adopted by several cities and states. The goal of ranked-choice voting is to ensure that the winning candidate has broad support among voters, even if they are not the first choice of a majority of voters. It can also reduce the negative effects of vote splitting, where two or more similar candidates draw votes away from each other and allow a less popular candidate to win with only a small percentage of the vote.
How Ranked-Choice Voting Works ?
Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference instead of just selecting one candidate. To understand how it works, let’s assume there are five candidates running for a position. On the ballot, voters can rank them from first to fifth in order of preference.
On election day, if no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. The ballots cast for the eliminated candidate are then redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the next available preference on each ballot. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of the votes and is declared the winner.
For example, let’s say Candidate A receives 35% of the first-choice votes, Candidate B receives 25%, Candidate C receives 20%, Candidate D receives 15%, and Candidate E receives 5%. Since no candidate has a majority, Candidate E is eliminated, and the ballots cast for Candidate E are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on their second choice. Let’s assume that all of Candidate E’s votes go to Candidate C, then Candidate C would have 25% (its original 20% plus 5% from Candidate E). If this still doesn’t result in a majority, the process continues with the candidate with the fewest votes eliminated until a winner is declared. RCV is designed to ensure that the winning candidate is preferred by the majority of voters, and it also eliminates the need for a separate runoff election, saving time and money.
Pros of Ranked-Choice Voting:
- Provides more choices to voters: Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank their preferred candidates in order, giving them more options and reducing the need to vote strategically.
- Increases representation: Ranked-choice voting can help ensure that the winner has the support of the majority of voters and not just a minority. This can lead to greater representation of diverse perspectives and reduce polarization.
- Reduces negative campaigning: Because candidates need to appeal to a broader range of voters, they may be less likely to engage in negative campaigning or divisive rhetoric.
- Saves money: Since there is no need for primary elections, ranked-choice voting can save money by eliminating the need for multiple rounds of voting.
Cons of Ranked-Choice Voting:
- Complexity: Ranked-choice voting can be confusing for voters who are not familiar with the process, which may lead to errors or spoiled ballots.
- Longer ballot counting: Counting ballots for ranked-choice voting can take longer than traditional voting methods, which can delay results.
- Potential for strategic voting: Voters may strategically rank candidates they believe have a better chance of winning, rather than their true preference, which could undermine the accuracy of the system.
- Technology challenges: Implementing ranked-choice voting may require new or updated technology, which can be expensive and pose security risks.
Here is an example of how Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) works:
Suppose there are three candidates in an election: Candidate A, Candidate B, and Candidate C. There are 100 voters participating in the election, and they rank the candidates in order of preference, as follows:
- 40 voters rank Candidate A as their first choice, Candidate B as their second choice, and Candidate C as their third choice.
- 35 voters rank Candidate B as their first choice, Candidate A as their second choice, and Candidate C as their third choice.
- 25 voters rank Candidate C as their first choice, Candidate B as their second choice, and Candidate A as their third choice.
To determine the winner using RCV, the first-choice votes are counted. If a candidate receives more than 50% of the first-choice votes, they are declared the winner. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the second-choice preferences of those voters. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of the votes.
In our example, Candidate A receives the most first-choice votes, but not a majority, so the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes, Candidate C, is eliminated. The 25 votes for Candidate C are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on their second-choice preferences. Of those votes, 15 go to Candidate B and 10 go to Candidate A. The new totals are as follows:
- Candidate A: 50 votes (40 first-choice votes + 10 second-choice votes)
- Candidate B: 50 votes (35 first-choice votes + 15 second-choice votes)
Since neither candidate has a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes, Candidate A, is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed based on the third-choice preferences of those voters. All 40 of Candidate A’s votes go to Candidate B, making Candidate B the winner with 65 votes. This is just one example of how RCV works, and the process can become more complex with more candidates and more rounds of vote-counting.