Posted by Emily Risch on October 11, 2019 at 3:55 PM

In a win that ensures more votes will count,

Hawaii and Kansas to Use Ranked Choice Voting Ballots in 2020 Primaries  

Two state parties receive Democratic National Committee (DNC) permission on their plans to use ranked choice voting

Washington, DC -- The Rules and Bylaws Committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) unanimously approved proposals today by state Democratic parties in Hawaii and Kansas to use ranked choice voting (RCV) ballots in their party-run presidential primaries to choose delegates in 2020. The approved plans ensure that as many votes as possible will count toward earning delegates and underscores momentum for the increasingly popular ranked choice voting method. Alaska and Wyoming are likely to join the other states in using RCV in 2020, and Maine will use it in its presidential primary in 2024.

“Every vote should count, period,” said FairVote president and CEO Rob Richie. “Voters should be able to decide who to support without having to worry about vote splitting or predicting whether their candidate can earn delegates. Ranked choice voting ballots make democracy work better for everyone. The newly approved plans in Hawaii and Kansas mean that we’ll see primary outcomes that better reflect what voters actually want, rather than who is deemed viable by polls. No voter will be punished for voting early for a candidate who drops out or loses support.”

RCV ballots in these states will ensure that voters will have their ballot count for a backup choice if their first choice falls short of the support needed to earn delegates under DNC rules.  As summarized in this flowchart, the initial tally of first choices will determine whether all candidates exceed the “viability threshold” of 15% of the votes needed to earn a proportional share of delegates. If they all do, no RCV tally is needed. If not, the last-place candidate is removed from the count, and ballots for that candidate count for the next highest-ranked active candidate on each ballot. This continues until all candidates have at least 15%.


To provide a concrete example, in September 2019 FairVote partnered with YouGov to do a national “ranked choice” poll of 1,002 likely Democratic presidential primary voters. Of the 1,000 voters, 317 supported one of the 17 candidates who did not receive at least 15% of first choice, with the rest backing Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. Nearly four out of every five backers of a nonviable candidate had their vote count for a viable candidate due to use of RCV. This process and data can be explored using FairVote’s online interactive tools, to see how ranked choice voting (RCV) ballots will work in tandem with Democratic Party rules involving delegate allocation in these states. 

Both state party chairs -- Kate Stanley from Hawaii and Vicki Hiatt from Kansas -- stressed the support ranked choice voting had earned in their states and how it will help encourage people to make the most of their new power to vote early. 

Kansas chair Hiatt commented, “Kansas Democrats are excited about ranked choice voting in our 2020 presidential primary. As I’ve traveled the state to introduce this process, voters have consistently stated that ranked choice voting is more fair and empowers them as voters.”

Ahead of the decision, support for use of RCV ballots proved strong among grassroots Democrats. FairVote catalogued every public comment on state plans in Alaska, Hawaii, and Kansas that each party put up for review earlier this year. As detailed here, 41 comments addressed RCV: 37 comments were clearly positive, 3 were neutral and only 1 was somewhat negative.

Ranked choice voting has growing national and local momentum, and where adopted, ranked choice voting systems will make more votes count. In the most diverse field of viable presidential candidates the country has seen, and the largest in at least 40 years, it will also help candidates who are reaching beyond their base to build a coalition of supporters.

Last month, Maine became the first state to use ranked choice voting to decide Electoral College votes in the general presidential election in 2020, and will allow RCV for presidential primaries starting in 2024. Among Democratic presidential nomination contests in 2020, Iowa and Nevada will hold traditional caucuses where participants’ “backup choices” will count if their first choice can’t win delegates. That is why Nevada is also working on plans to have early voters cast ranked choice voting ballots that will be integrated into the in-person caucuses. Both states will release the percentages of individual voter preferences for candidates and the percentages of delegates earned that will reflect this RCV-type approach. 

FairVote works with electoral reformers across the country, including in New York City, where this November voters will vote on using ranked-choice voting in all future primary and special elections. FairVote and FairVote Action, a 501-c-4 organization, have played an important support role in the decisions of state parties to adopt RCV to help select the 2020 Democratic nominee, providing guidance for parties on how to implement and good approaches to voter education. 

FairVote is committed to supporting implementation of RCV through supporting robust voter education plans, partnering with local civic groups. FairVote Action has committed to mobilizing funds in support of state parties using RCV, under the condition the funds are reserved explicitly for administering these contests in funds from a separate bank account. Other parties, including Republicans during their 2016 nomination contest, have also reached out to FairVote and FairVote Action about RCV over the years.

More than 600,000 RCV ballots will be mailed to registered voters. The first primaries where all Democratic voters will cast RCV ballots will take place on April 4, when Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming will count absentee ballots and allow in-person voting. Kansas will hold its primary with RCV ballots on May 2.


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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