IRV Resources

Administering IRV or RCV Elections

Due to the growing popularity of instant runoff voting, a number of jurisdictions have made the switch to running ranked choice elections or are now in the transition process. This has spurred the creation of a number of best practices that can be helpful to other jurisdictions getting ready for IRV. Jurisdictions large and small are using new voting equipment, upgrades to existing equipment, hand counts or a combination of these methods to run efficient IRV elections at reasonable costs. 


Ranked voting and election integrity


Ranked voting methods, in which voters are allowed to rank candidates in the order of choice, such as instant runoff voting and choice voting, can strengthen election integrity through the use of redundant electronic and paper records of every vote that can be compared through manual audit procedures. This provides the ability to perform audits all the way down to the ballot level, rather than only precinct-level audits. Although this approach can be applied in non-ranked voting elections, it already is being used in some elections using ranked voting, thereby showcasing an approach that we believe should be the norm for all of our elections. We support a modular approach where independent software can be used to review data generated in a verifiably secure, auditable process and then tallied by independent software. We focus on election administration with optical scan ballots, as voter-verified paper ballots are rightly becoming the norm in U.S. elections. Read the full analysis.

Voting Equipment

IRV elections can be administered with any voting equipment, or entirely by a hand count, but some systems are better than others. Generally, the options for administration of ranked choice elections include (1) using a modern, certified machine which is IRV-ready for full internal tabulation; (2) count first choices on machines as normal and then shift to a central count with either hand counting or hand sorting for subsequent rounds; (3) contract with a private vendor to conduct the tabulation; or (4) use any machine capable of exporting to a common data format readable by off-the-shelf software and then conduct the tabulation on any computer. Each of these options is spelled out in greater detail in this March, 2013 document.

The easiest way to get IRV-ready equipment is to require ranked choice capability readiness in new equipment purchases. If your jurisdiction is purchasing new equipment to replace outdated machines, add security or disability access features, or comply with state or federal guidelines, this is the most cost-efficient time to meet current or future ranked choice needs. The links below provide information on adding ranked choice readiness language to legislation and requests for proposals (RFP's).

If your jurisdiction is not planning on purchasing new equipment in the near future, you can still get ready to run IRV elections at a reasonable cost. Some voting equipment can be made IRV-ready through software upgrades without need to replace hardware. Use the links below for information on equipment available from vendors and equipment used by jurisdictions running IRV elections. 

Acquiring Ranked Choice Equipment

HAVA Testimony

The 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) created federal guidelines and financial assistance for states to modernize voting equipment. Many states have already upgraded their equipment, but as of 2007, a number of states are still in the process of making HAVA-funded voting equipment purchases. These purchases are the ideal opportunity to acquire ranked choice ready equipment for current or future IRV elections at the state or local level. The following links contain FairVote testimony on the importance of new voting equipment purchases being capable of running the various types of elections used in the United States.

Hand Count Options for Public Elections

Jurisdictions without ranked choice voting equipment are understandably hesitant about the costs of upgrading or purchasing new equipment. One option for administering IRV elections without new or upgraded voting equipment is to tabulate IRV ballots by hand. For small jurisdictions, this is often an ideal option. Even for larger jurisdictions, a well-organized hand counting process makes sense. For example, the Republic of Ireland efficiently uses IRV hand counts for national elections.

Another innovative option is to use current voting equipment to count first choices at the polls and use a central hand count only for the IRV tabulation. This method is used for mayoral elections in Burlington, VT, and was used in 2007 in a number of cities in North Carolina.

For a detailed discussion of efficient hand count methods and hybrid machine/hand count procedures, see our report on the feasibility of instant runoff voting in Vermont.

Also, see the Town of Cary's report on instant runoff voting procedures developed for their 2007 election using IRV.

Model Legislation

FairVote has compiled resources to help you prepare statutory language, legislation, resolutions or testimony in support of IRV. We've included models, samples from a number of state and local IRV efforts and legal guidelines. For more information or assistance with legislative or legal issues relating to IRV in your state, email irv[AT]

Resources For Implementing IRV

FairVote has collected resources related to the implementation of instant runoff voting systems.

1. Resources for conducting a private ranked ballot election

2. Government Ranked Election Implementation Resources

3. Ranked Voting Legislation

4. Implementation Reports

5. Voting Machine and Auditing Resources

6. Sample Ballot Designs

7. Voter Education Resources

8. Advice For Campaigning Under IRV

9. Impact of Ranked Choice Voting