Ranked Choice Voting could take your vote away.

Ranked choice voting (RCV) is an electoral scheme that adds more confusion to the voting system while threatening our democracy and failing to ensure that every vote counts.

What is Ranked Choice Voting?

Ranked choice voting (RCV), also known as instant run-off voting, is an electoral scheme that adds more confusion to the voting system while threatening our democracy and failing to ensure that every vote counts.

Each citizen should have one vote, and every vote should count. But with a system like RCV, voters could lose their say.

How does RCV work?

All candidates appear on one ballot. Voters then rank each candidate from “1” (their first choice) to “4” (or “5”, etc.–their last choice). Voters are not required to rank each candidate; however, this could result in their ballot being discarded by the end of the election.

A candidate with 50 percent or more of first-preference votes wins the election. If no one person claims the majority in the first round, those with the fewest votes are eliminated. The process repeats with the elimination of many candidates (if needed) until one candidate receives a majority of the leftover votes and is declared the winner.

But with RCV, sometimes your vote doesn’t count at the end of the election due to “ballot exhaustion.” It occurs when voters make ballot marking mistakes due to RCV confusion or by only ranking candidates that are eventually eliminated from contention. In these instances, your ballot is discarded and your vote no longer counts.

Example of Successfully Filled Out RCV Ballot

Voter 1 successfully filled out their ballot, but it still doesn’t mean that the candidate they put as their first choice will win. 
Voter 1 successfully filled out their ballot, but it still doesn’t mean that the candidate they put as their first choice will win. 

Example of Exhausted RCV Ballot

Voter 2 selected Smokey Bear as their first choice and Wonder Woman as their second choice and made no other selections. Both candidates were eliminated after multiple rounds of tabulation. Because Voter 2 did not rank any other candidates, they've exhausted their choices and the ballot is discarded.
Voter 2 selected Smokey Bear as their first choice and Wonder Woman as their second choice and made no other selections. Both candidates were eliminated after multiple rounds of tabulation. Because Voter 2 did not rank any other candidates, they’ve exhausted their choices and the ballot is discarded.
What They're Saying
  • I stand with a bipartisan group of politicians, advocates, and academics in opposing Ranked Choice Voting because when it comes to elections, every vote cast in our state should count. The evidence and experience from around the country suggests that Ranked Choice Voting will work against this goal, adding unnecessary confusion and potentially reducing voter turnout. We need to be spending our time and resources to make it easier for all Alaskans to speak up at the ballot box, not harder.

    SenBegich
    Former U.S. Senator Mark Begich
    (D-Alaska)
  • The promise that ranked-choice voting leads to greater democracy is not necessarily fulfilled.

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    Governor Gavin Newsom
  • Every vote should count, and every vote should be as simple as ‘I picked my top candidate.’

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    State Senator Mark Koran
  • [W]e need to remove barriers to voting, and I think ranked-choice voting is counter to that. My research shows that when you make things more complicated, which this does, there’s going to be lower turnout.

    JasonMcDaniel
    Jason McDaniel
    Associate Professor of Political Science
The Problems with RCV

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Cities and States that Repealed RCV

Some states and localities have used a RCV system, but the findings all show the same thing: Voters feel that their vote doesn’t count.

For example, a study in San Francisco found that between 1995 and 2011 in elections where RCV was used, voter turnout among African Americans and white individuals declined. The author of the study attributed the majority of this decline to RCV and the increased confusion that surrounds the system.

Additionally, some jurisdictions have implemented and tested RCV but have since repealed the complicated system. For example, in Burlington, Vermont, RCV was adopted for the 2005 mayoral races but was repealed in 2010 by 52 percent of voters.

A similar response was seen in Aspen, Colorado. The city used RCV for the first time in 2009 but it was quickly rejected by 65 percent of voters in 2010.

Other jurisdictions that tested and repealed RCV include the State of North Carolina, Pierce County, Washington, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

It is clear that voters overwhelmingly prefer their traditional voting system of one person, one vote over the convoluted RCV system.

Cities and States that Repealed RCV
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Some states and localities have used a RCV system, but the findings all show the same thing: Voters feel that their vote doesn’t count.

For example, a study in San Francisco found that between 1995 and 2011 in elections where RCV was used, voter turnout among African Americans and white individuals declined. The author of the study attributed the majority of this decline to RCV and the increased confusion that surrounds the system.

Additionally, some jurisdictions have implemented and tested RCV but have since repealed the complicated system. For example, in Burlington, Vermont, RCV was adopted for the 2005 mayoral races but was repealed in 2010 by 52 percent of voters.

A similar response was seen in Aspen, Colorado. The city used RCV for the first time in 2009 but it was quickly rejected by 65 percent of voters in 2010.

Other jurisdictions that tested and repealed RCV include the State of North Carolina, Pierce County, Washington, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

It is clear that voters overwhelmingly prefer their traditional voting system of one person, one vote over the convoluted RCV system.

RCV: Facts vs Fiction

  • CLAIM: A candidate needs to earn more than half of the votes to win.

    FACT: While it seems logical, this isn’t always the case thanks to “ballot exhaustion.” For example, in a 2010 San Francisco District 10 Board of Supervisors race that used RCV, the winning candidate received less than 25 percent of the total votes cast. That year, several Board of Supervisors election winners were only ranked as the first choice candidate by two percent or less of voters.

  • CLAIM: RCV is just like a run-off election.

    FACT: No, this is not true at all. What voters are expected to do is project who the winners will be in advance as they rank their choices—basically expecting voters to become fortune tellers. This puts more pressure on voters to have a greater knowledge of the candidates.

  • CLAIM: RCV provides voters with “more voice and more choice.”

    FACT: While more choice is often good, in this case RCV eliminates “one person, one vote.” It can leave voters feeling overwhelmed by choices. In other cases, individuals might simply list only one candidate—allowing their vote to be easily discounted due to ballot exhaustion.

  • CLAIM: RCV will increase voter turnout.

    FACT: Reports show that RCV actually suppresses voter turnout in some states and municipalities. This could be a result of the confusing nature of the process.

  • CLAIM: RCV reduces the use of negative campaign rhetoric and attack ads.

    FACT: While it might reduce candidate-on-candidate attacks, it leaves the door wide open for third party organizations to fill that negative messaging gap—and get away with it. For example, in Maine’s 2018 gubernatorial primaries, there was a clear increase in third-party groups unaffiliated with a particular candidate or party, compared to past gubernatorial primaries.

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Many organizations, think tanks, and individuals have researched the negative effects Ranked Choice Voting has on the democratic process. Below are detailed reports on how RCV harms your vote. 

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