What is ranked choice voting?


Interested in electoral reform and electing more women, but overwhelmed by the prospect of abolishing the Electoral College? You may want to learn about ranked choice voting (RCV). 

What is Ranked Choice Voting?

RCV is an electoral system where instead of choosing just one favorite, voters rank as many candidates as they want in order of preference. This is in contrast to the antiquated winner-take-all system, which prevails in the United States. 

What’s wrong with the winner-take-all system?

Under the winner-take-all system, the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins, even if they don’t have support from a majority of voters. If you have a race for a single seat with four candidates, for example, and the distribution of votes is 30%, 25%, 25% and 20%, respectively, the candidate with 30% of the vote will win. Even though 70% of people — the majority — prefer a different candidate, that candidate with 30% of the vote is still the winner. For a representative democracy, our prevailing voting method isn’t always particularly representative or democratic.

How does RCV work?

To win an RCV election, a candidate must get over 50% of the vote. This ensures that the majority of people are represented by someone they support. If no candidate has more than 50% of the vote after the first round of counting, the last place candidate’s votes are redistributed. Everyone who ranked the last place candidate as their first choice will have their votes reallocated to their second choice. If there is still no candidate with over 50% of the vote, the process repeats until there’s a winner. 

Where is RCV used?

RCV is already being used in cities across the United States. Twenty-six states have RCV at the party, local, state, and/or national levels, and data that RepresentWomen collected in December 2018 shows that more women are winning in these places. In cities that use RCV, women’s representation in executive and legislative positions is higher than the national average.

RCV is used for military and overseas voting in six states and for presidential primaries in six states. It is also used for the Oscars and at over 50 colleges and universities. 

How does RCV advance gender parity in politics?

RCV is a systems-based reform, and races that use RCV stand to advance gender parity in three major ways:

First, RCV elections tend to be more civil and issue-focused, appealing to more women candidates than the winner-take-all system. Second, RCV elections eliminate the spoiler effect, or vote-splitting, allowing multiple women candidates to run without taking votes away from each other. And third, RCV elections save money, because in the case of a close race, there would be an instant runoff rather than a subsequent runoff election. 

At RepresentWomen, our research and data collected from jurisdictions holding RCV elections tells us that systems-based reforms are helping to elect more women, and more diverse women, to office in the United States.

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