Ranked choice voting definition/advantages/working/Types/Pros and cons

Ranked choice voting is an electoral system that allows voters to vote for multiple candidates, in the order of their preference – first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on. Ranked choice voting contrasts with what is known as plurality voting, the more traditional system of simply voting for a candidate. Ranked choice voting definition

Main advantages: chosen roll call

  • Ranked choice voting is an election method in which voters rank candidates in order of preference.
  • Ranking candidates is different from simply selecting a single candidate in what is known as plurality voting.
  • Ranked choice voting is also known as “second round instant voting” as it does not require separate elections when no candidate wins 50% of the vote.
  • Currently, 18 major US cities use ranked choice voting, as well as the countries of Australia, New Zealand, Malta and Ireland.

How ranked choice voting works

With roll call voting, voters rank their candidate choices in order of preference. Ranked choice voting definition

Sample of nominal voting ballot:
 Rank up to 4 candidates  First choice  Second chance  third choice  Fourth Choice
 Candidate A  ( )  ( )  ( )  ( )
 Candidate B  ( )  ( )  ( )  ( )
 Candidate C  ( )  ( )  ( )  ( )
 Candidate D  ( )  ( )  ( )  ( )

Ballots are counted to determine which, if any, candidate received more than 50% of the first preference votes required to be elected. If no candidate receives the most first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the eliminated candidate are likewise withdrawn from further consideration, suspending the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A recount is performed to determine whether any candidate obtained the most adjusted votes. This process is repeated until a candidate obtains an absolute majority of first preference votes. Ranked choice voting definition

First preference vote counts in a hypothetical mayoral election:
 Candidate  first preference votes  Percentage
 Candidate A  475  46.34%
 Candidate B  300  29.27%
 Candidate C  175  17.07%
 Candidate D  75  7.32%

In the above case, none of the candidates obtained an absolute majority of the total of 1,025 first preference votes cast. As a result, Candidate D, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes, is eliminated. The ballots that voted for candidate D as first preference are adjusted, distributing the second preference votes to the other candidates. For example, if out of 75 first-preference votes for Candidate D, 50 listed Candidate A as their second preference and 25 listed Candidate B as their second preference, the adjusted vote totals would be as follows:

Adjusted vote totals
 Candidate  Adjusted first preference votes  Percentage
 Candidate A  525 (475+50) 51.22%
 Candidate B  325 (300+25)  31.71%
 Candidate C  175  17.07%

On the adjusted count, Candidate A obtained a majority of 51.22% of the vote, thus winning the election.

Ranked choice voting works equally well in elections where multiple seats must be filled, such as city council or school board elections. Similar to the example above, a process of elimination and election of candidates takes place through counting rounds until all seats are filled. Ranked choice voting definition

Today, rating choice voting is growing in popularity. In 2020, Democratic parties in four states used the choice vote to narrow their crowded field of candidates in their presidential preference primaries . In November 2020, Maine became the first state to use the choice vote in a general presidential election.

As new as it sounds, rating choice voting has been in use in the United States for nearly 100 years. According to Classified Choice Voting Resource Center , several cities adopted it throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The system fell out of use in the 1950s, in part because the counting of choice ballots still had to be done manually. , while traditional single-choice banknotes could be counted by machines. Thanks to modern optical character recognition (OCR) computer technology, ranking voting has been making a resurgence over the past two decades. Currently, 18 cities use ranked voting, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota and San Francisco, Oakland and other cities in the California Bay Area.

Types of ranked choice voting

Since rank-choice voting was invented in Europe during the 1850s, it has spawned several variations aimed at electing people that more closely reflect the character and opinions of the constituent population. Among the most prominent of these voting systems are instant runoff, positional voting, and single transferable voting.

Instant Runoff

When used to elect a single candidate, as opposed to multiple candidates in a multi-member district, ranked voting resembles traditional run-off elections, but requiring only one election. As in the hypothetical mayoral election above, if no candidate wins the most votes in the first round, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and another round of vote counting begins immediately. If a voter’s first-choice candidate is eliminated, their vote is awarded to the second-choice candidate, and so on, until one candidate receives a 50% majority, one candidate receives a majority and wins the election. Thus, ranking choice voting is also known as “second round voting”. Ranked choice voting definition

The second round voting aims to avoid the election of a candidate who does not have the support of the majority, as can happen in plurality voting by a “common spoiler effect.” Candidates elected with less than 50% of the votes may not have the support of a majority of voters and may represent views in conflict with the majority of voters.

positional voting

Positional voting, also known as “pass voting”, is a variant of ranked choice voting in which candidates are awarded points based on the voter’s preferred position on each ballot and the candidate with the most points overall wins. If a voter ranks a candidate as their first choice, that candidate receives 1 point. Lower ranked candidates receive 0 points. Candidates ranked between first and last receive a number of points between 0 and 1.

In positional voting elections, voters are generally required to express a unique ordinal preference for each candidate or choose the ballot in strict descending order of rank, such as “first”, “second”, or “third”. Preferences left unranked are worthless. Ballots ranked with tied options are normally considered invalid and uncounted.

While positional voting reveals more information about voter preferences than traditional plurality voting, it carries certain costs. Voters must fill out a more complicated ballot and the vote counting process is more complicated and slower, often requiring mechanized support. Ranked choice voting definition

Single Transferable Vote

The single transferable vote is a form of proportionally ranked choice voting created in Great Britain and is widely used today in Scotland, Ireland and Australia. In the United States, it is often referred to as “Multi-Member Seat Category Choice voting”.

The single transferable vote strives to match the strength of candidates to their level of support within the electorate, thereby electing representatives with strong connections to their area. Rather than choosing one person to represent everyone in a small area, larger areas such as cities, counties, and school districts elect a small group of representatives, usually 5 to 9. In theory, the ratio of representatives to constituencies achieved through single transferable vote better reflects the diversity of opinion in the area.

On Election Day, voters apply the numbers to a list of candidates. Your favorite is marked as number one, your second favorite as number two, and so on. Voters are free to rank as many candidates as they like. Political parties generally run with more than one candidate in each area. Ranked choice voting definition

A candidate needs a certain number of votes, known as a quota, to be elected. The required quota is based on the number of seats being filled and the total number of votes cast. Once the initial vote count is complete, any candidate who has more number-one ratings than the quota is elected. If no candidate reaches the quota, the least popular candidate is eliminated. The votes of the people who ranked them number one are assigned to the second favorite candidate. This process continues until all vacancies are filled.

Pros and cons

Today, ranking choice or instant voting in the second round has been adopted by a handful of democracies around the world. Australia has used choice voting in its lower house elections since 1918. In the United States, rank-choice voting is still considered an increasingly desirable alternative to traditional plurality voting. In deciding to abandon plurality voting, government leaders, election officials and, most critically, the people, must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of position choice voting.

Advantages of roll call voting

It promotes majority support. In multi-vote elections with more than two candidates, the winner may receive less than a majority of votes. In the 1912 US presidential election, for example, Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected with 42% of the vote, and in the 2010 Maine gubernatorial election, the winner received only 38% of the vote. Proponents of roll-call voting argue that to prove broad support from their constituents, winning candidates must receive at least 50% of the vote. In the “instant runoff” elimination system of ranking choice voting, vote counting continues until a candidate has counted a majority of votes. Ranked choice voting definition

It also limits the spoiler effect. In pluralist, independent or third -party elections, candidates can divert votes from candidates of the main parties. For example, in the 1968 Presidential Election , American Independent Party candidate George Wallace diverted enough votes from Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey to win 14% of the popular vote and 46 electoral votes .

In roll-call elections, voters are free to select their first candidate from a third party and a candidate from one of the two main parties as their second choice. In the event that neither candidate receives 50% of the first-choice selections, the voter’s second-choice candidate – a Democrat or a Republican – would have the right to vote. As a result, people are less likely to think that voting for a candidate from another party is a waste of time.

Nominal choice voting can also be useful in multi-candidate elections such as the 2016 Republican or 2020 Democratic presidential primaries because voters are not forced to choose just one candidate when several could appeal to them. Ranked choice voting definition

Ranked choice voting can help US military personnel and citizens living abroad vote in states where the conventional runoff is used in primary preference elections. Under federal law, ballots for the second round must be sent to foreign voters 45 days before the election. The states of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina use an instant runoff rank-choice voting system for military and foreign voters for the primary rounds. Voters need only receive one ballot, on which they nominate their first and second choice candidates. If another runoff is needed and your chosen candidate is eliminated, the vote goes to the second-choice candidate.

Jurisdictions that adopt instant runoff ranked choice voting systems tend to have better voter turnout. In general, voters are less disheartened by the campaign process and more satisfied that winning candidates reflect their views.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who has championed category voting as a major policy initiative, says it can help prevent increasingly polarized election campaigns, increase the number of women and minority candidates running for public office and reduce the negative number of campaigning.

Ranked choice voting saves money compared to holding conventional primary elections where separate runoff elections may be required. In states that still hold conventional primary elections, taxpayers pay millions of additional dollars to hold second-round elections, candidates fight for more campaign money from big donors, while voter turnout drops dramatically in the runoff. With ranked voting and instant runoff elections, the final result can be obtained with just one ballot. Ranked choice voting definition

Disadvantages of roll call voting

Critics of roll call voting say it is undemocratic and creates more problems than it solves. “Ranking choice voting is the flavor of the day. And it will taste bitter,” the former Maine municipal voter wrote in 2015, when voters in that state were considering adopting the system. “Its advocates want to replace real democracy, where the majority chooses the winner, with something similar to the method of selection on a game show. The result can be more akin to a family feud than a decision about one of the most important choices people can make.”

Some argue that plurality remains a time-tested democratic method of choosing elected officials and that ranked voting merely simulates a majority, narrowing the field of candidates after each round of vote counting. Furthermore, if a voter decides to vote only for one candidate and not rank the others, and the count goes to a second level, the voter’s ballot may not count, thus nullifying that citizen’s vote.

In a 2016 essay in the editor of Democracy, Politics and History, Simon Waxman argues that category voting does not necessarily lead to the election of a candidate who represents a majority of voters. A 2014 article in the journal Electoral Studies that analyzed ballots from 600,000 voters in California and Washington Counties found that easily exhausted voters don’t always rank all candidates on a long ballot. As a result, some voters end up with their ballots eliminated and with no say in the outcome. Ranked choice voting definition

As ranked choice voting is new and very different from traditional plurality voting methods, the voting population may not have adequate knowledge of the new system. This will therefore require an extensive – and expensive – public education program. Out of sheer frustration, many voters are likely to mark their ballots incorrectly, resulting in more voided votes.


Since San Francisco first used rank-choice voting in 2004, adoption of the system in the United States has gained some momentum. Addressing this trend, Larry Diamond, former director of Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development and Rule of Law, said: “We are really deciding on ranking voting as the most promising reform to democratize and depolarize our politics. is here to stay, but is also gaining support across the country.”

In 2019, over 73% of voters in New York City approved of using rank-choice voting. In November 2020, Alaska joined Maine as the only state to adopt roll call voting in all federal elections. Nevada, Hawaii, Kansas and Wyoming also used the method to vote in their 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. In total, 18 major US cities, including Minneapolis and San Francisco, currently use ranked voting. As of March 2021, local jurisdictions in eight other states have implemented choice voting at some levels, while jurisdictions in six states have adopted but not yet implemented the system in local elections. Ranked choice voting definition

In Utah, 26 cities have approved the use of ranked voting in their upcoming municipal election as part of a statewide pilot program to test the system.

In Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, ranked ballots are used by all foreign military and civilian voters in federal elections that might otherwise require second-round elections.

Internationally, the countries that have fully implemented country-wide ranking pick systems are Australia, New Zealand, Malta and Ireland.

Since Australia introduced ranked choice voting in the early 1920s, the system has been praised for helping the country avoid split votes, allowing voters to still vote for less popular and similar candidates than themselves. According to Benjamin Reilly, an expert in electoral system design at the University of Western Australia, “Voters liked it because it gave them more choice so they didn’t have to worry about losing their vote if they wanted to vote for one of the smaller parties. Reilly noted how choice-by-ranking systems allow voters to avoid blame by giving them the option to voice their support for third-party candidates as well as majority-party candidates. Ranked choice voting definition

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