Posted by Rich Robinson on July 11, 2018 at 3:28 PM

New FairVote report finds smooth implementation, increased turnout, effective ballot use by nearly half million voters

TAKOMA PARK, Md. – Midway through 2018, nearly a half million voters have cast ballots in elections for mayoral elections in San Francisco and Santa Fe and primaries in Maine using ranked choice voting, according to a new report released today by FairVote. Maine voters elected majority winners in crowded primaries for governor as well as for the U.S. House of Representatives and will use ranked choice voting (RCV) in November’s general election for the House and U.S. Senate.

“Cities and states with ranked choice voting are experiencing healthy, positive campaigns that are drawing strong turnout from voters,” said Rob Richie, FairVote president and CEO. “Voters seem to appreciate the opportunity to rank their choices and make few errors when compared to non-ranked contests. Winners emerge with greater consensus support in their communities and real mandates. It’s time to make ranked choice voting a national norm.”

Turnout for these three elections continue the trend of notably high voter turnout set by RCV elections in the past year. In San Francisco, 52.6 percent of registered voters participated in its June election, a considerable increase from the 29.7 percent turnout in the city’s last midterm primary in June 2014 and this year’s state average of 38 percent. A total of 250,868 voters cast a ballot in the hotly-contested mayoral race, the second-largest in city history, and more than in the races also going on for governor and U.S. Senate. Far fewer mayoral ballots were invalidated than gubernatorial ballots.

In Maine, this year’s Democratic primary election had more votes cast than any prior Democratic election in the state’s history. More than 126,000 votes were cast in the gubernatorial primary, up 50 percent from an average of just under 84,000 votes cast in the party’s three prior contested gubernatorial primaries (in 2002, 2010 and 2014).

In Santa Fe, 20,604 voters cast a valid vote for mayor, topping the highest turnout in any recent mayoral election, including the 17,022 votes cast in a comparably contested mayoral race without RCV in 2014. Local media coverage emphasized the large number of candidate debates, and their packed attendance - with many voters apparently desiring to know not just who their first choice should be, but their other ranked choices as well.

These increased numbers in turnout continue a trend established in 2017 elections in all four cities that held RCV contests – Minneapolis, St. Paul, Cambridge, Mass., and Takoma Park, Md. – which all recorded remarkably strong turnout.

The report also found that voters are comfortable ranking their choices without making mistakes that invalidate their vote. The year so far has also seen extremely low overvote rates across RCV elections with very different ballot designs and systems, including only 0.13 percent in Santa Fe’s five-candidate mayoral election, 0.25 percent in San Francisco's eight-candidate mayoral race, 0.24 percent in Maine Democrats’ 2nd Congressional District primary with four candidates, and 0.34 percent in Maine Democrats’ seven-candidate gubernatorial primary. The report also concluded that that RCV is not a major contributor to overvotes in either RCV or non-RCV races, nor a major factor in confusing ballot design.

The report also contrasts RCV with other states that nominate by plurality or by runoff elections. Of 23 congressional primary runoffs so far in 2018, turnout declined by an average of 46 percent, and more than half were won in the runoff with fewer votes than the winner earned in the first round. Numerous primaries were won with less than half the votes, including two U.S. House winners who earned less than 25 percent of the vote in districts that lean heavily toward their party. By contrast, every RCV winner was ranked in the top three by more than 60 percent of voters and significantly increased their vote total in the RCV tally.

Also called instant runoff voting, RCV is easy. Voters rank candidates in order of choice: first choice, second choice and so on. If a candidate earns more than half of first choices, that candidate wins. If not, the candidate in last place is defeated, and ballots counting for that candidate go to the next ranked choice. This continues the winner earns a majority of votes in the final round of the instant runoff. RCV will be used later this year in five cities and Maine, in jurisdictions with a combined population of more than 3.2 million people. Eleven cities and Maine currently use RCV, and additional cities and counties will use it in upcoming elections in Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon and Tennessee.

Further analysis and the full report can be read at http://www.fairvote.org/ranked_choice_voting_s_midterm_report

A nonprofit organization founded in 1992, FairVote is a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice, and a representative democracy that works for all Americans.

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