Voices & Choices

Nevada’s innovative use of RCV in 2020 gave greater voice to voters

Nevada’s innovative use of RCV in 2020 gave greater voice to voters

As the Democratic National Committee considers standardizing the use of ranked choice voting (RCV) for presidential primary elections, it’s worth taking a look back at Nevada, a state that adopted RCV in a particularly innovative fashion in 2020.

Four other states used RCV for all Democratic primary voters, but Nevada used RCV only for early voters. RCV put Nevada’s early voters on equal footing with in-person caucus participants. In-person caucus-goers have the option to “realign” with a second-choice candidate if their first choice doesn’t cross the threshold to win delegates; RCV gives that same power to early voters – if their top choice isn’t viable, their ballot simply counts for their next-ranked choice. 

Two-thirds of participants voted early, meaning most Nevada Democratic voters already have experience with RCV. Here are some highlights from Nevada voters’ first experience with RCV. 

  • RCV helped drive higher turnout. Total turnout in the Democratic caucuses was 105,000, an increase from 84,000 in 2016.
  • A more accessible nominating contest. The option to vote early with RCV removed the barriers to participation that come with in-person caucuses. It created equal opportunities for parents, people who work evening or weekend shifts, people with disabilities, and more.
  • 70,000 voters used RCV. More than two-thirds of participants in the Democratic caucuses (70,000 voters) voted early using RCV. On caucus day, those early ballots were incorporated with the live caucus-goers' preferences.
  • Almost all votes counted for active candidates. Early voters and in-person caucus-goers had their vote count for a second-choice or third-choice candidate if their first choice didn’t get enough support to cross the threshold to win delegates. 97% had their vote count for an active candidate in the final round, because of the option to support a backup choice.
  • Voters understood RCV. Despite the party's unique rule of requiring voters to rank multiple candidates for president, only 0.2% of early RCV ballots were invalidated due to ballot error. This rate is no greater than non-RCV error rates.
  • RCV gave voters more power. Adding RCV to the early-voting option gave early voters the same voting power as in-person participants. That is, if their first-choice candidate didn't cross the threshold to remain "viable,” their vote counted for whichever active candidate they ranked next-highest on their ballot. Just like the experience of in-person caucus-goers, no votes were wasted and every voice was heard.

While over 3 million Democrats’ votes were “wasted'' in other states, Nevada’s use of RCV instead increased the power of its voters. The positive experience of these voters can serve as a roadmap for success in other states, and also demonstrates that RCV can offer numerous benefits for Nevada elections, even outside of presidential caucuses.

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