Voices & Choices

Ranked Choice Voting Reduces Ballot Errors and Inequities, New Study Shows

Ranked Choice Voting Reduces Ballot Errors and Inequities, New Study Shows

A new experimental study comparing the usage of different voting methods provides additional evidence that despite opponents’ claims, ranked choice voting (RCV) may lead to fewer voided ballots and less demographic disparities in ballot errors compared to traditional single-mark ballots.

The study from New America and the University of Louisiana used an online experiment of 6,000 respondents who participated in a simulation of the 2020 Super Tuesday primary elections in Colorado, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Respondents completed two separate voting tasks featuring a single-mark, ranked-choice, or graded “range” ballot, with a different method assigned for each of the two tasks. Instructions and error warnings were not given before or during the ballot completion process, in order to authentically gauge the likelihood of voters making mistakes on their own. Researchers then examined the prevalence of blank, spoiled, and otherwise invalid ballots to determine which method produced the greatest incidences of error, and analyzed the demographic correlates for each type of error.

Ranked choice voting yielded a lower error rate of void ballots than single-choice ballots. The results also refuted the notion that alternative voting methods exacerbate the discrepancies in error rates between racial and gender groups. In fact, inequalities in the rate of void votes for white respondents versus BIPOC and men versus women were actually reduced by RCV ballots to a sizable degree. The rate of voided ranked choice ballots in actual elections averages about 0.02%, or about two in a thousand ballots, and fewer voters skip ranked choice ballot contests than non-RCV ones.

These findings are the latest to affirm the viability of ranked choice voting as an alternative that maximizes the freedom to express voting preferences without reducing the chance that votes will be counted. By dispelling the idea that single-choice voting is the most effective and equitable way to conduct elections, it bolsters the case for RCV as an innovation to our electoral system worth expanding in jurisdictions across the country.

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