Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked choice voting (RCV) makes democracy more fair and functional. It works in a variety of contexts. It is a simple change that can have a big impact.

With ranked choice voting, voters can rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice. Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices. When used as an "instant runoff" to elect a single candidate like a mayor or a governor, RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters. When used as a form of fair representation voting to elect more than one candidate like a city council, state legislature or even Congress, RCV helps to more fairly represent the full spectrum of voters.

Bring RCV to your community Data on RCV

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Using RCV now:

  • Basalt, Colorado: Adopted in 2002 to be used for mayoral races with three or more candidates.
  • Berkeley, California: Adopted in 2004 and has been used since 2010 to elect the mayor, city council and city auditor.
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts: In use since the 1940s in multi-winner RCV form for the nine-seat city council and six-seat school board elected citywide.
  • Carbondale, Colorado: Adopted in 2002 for mayoral races with three or more candidates.
  • Eastpointe, MichiganAdopted to resolve a federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit and used for two city council seats (at-large, proportional) in November 2019.
  • Las Cruces, New Mexico: Adopted by the city council in 2018 for all municipal elections beginning in November 2019.
  • Maine: Adopted in 2016 and first used in 2018 for all state and federal primary elections and all general elections for Congress extended to general election for president in 2020 and presidential primaries in 2024.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: Adopted in 2006 and used since 2009, in elections for 22 city offices, including mayor and city council in single winner elections and some multi-winner park board seats.
  • Oakland, California: Adopted in 2006 and used since 2010 for a total of 18 city offices, including mayor and city council.
  • Payson, Utah: A local options bill was passed in 2018, and the city opted-in for city council seats in November 2019 (at-large, winner take-all).
  • Portland, Maine: Adopted in 2010 and used since 2011 for electing mayor
  • San Francisco, California: Adopted in 2002 and used since 2004 to elect the mayor, city attorney, Board of Supervisors and five additional citywide offices
  • San Leandro, California: Adopted as option in 2000 charter amendment and used since 2010 to elect the mayor and city council
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico: Adopted in 2008 and used since March 2018 for mayor, city council, and municipal judge
  • St. Louis Park, Minnesota: Adopted in 2018 and used since 2019 for mayor and city council races. 
  • St. Paul, Minnesota: Adopted in 2009, used since 2011 to elect the mayor and city council
  • Takoma Park, Maryland: Adopted in 2006 and used since 2007 in all elections for mayor and city council
  • Telluride, Colorado: Adopted in 2008 for mayoral elections when at least three candidates run, as was true in 2011, 2015 and 2019.
  • Vineyard, Utah: A local options bill was passed in 2018, and the city opted-in for city council seats in November 2019 (at-large, winner take-all).

Upcoming implementations:

  • Amherst, Massachusetts: Adopted charter in 2018 with ranked choice voting and passing implementation statute before projected first use in 2021.
  • Benton County, Oregon: Adopted by voters in 2016 for general elections for county offices of sheriff and commissioner. It will be used in November 2020. 
  • Easthampton, MA:  Adopted in 2019 and to be used in mayoral and all single-seat city council elections starting in 2021
  • New York City: Adopted in 2019 and to be used in all city primary and special elections starting in 2021.
  • Palm Desert, California: Adopted January 2020 to be used for city council elections in November 2020 as part of a California Voting Rights Act settlement. One district elected in single winner elections, with the rest of the city electing in staggered two-winner multi winner elections (proportional).

Presidential Nominations (major party primaries and caucuses*)

  • Alaska: All voters in Democratic primary in April 2020
  • Nevada: Early voters in Democratic caucuses in Feb. 2020  
  • Hawaii: All voters in Democratic primary in April 2020
  • Kansas: All voters in Democratic primary in May 2020
  • Wyoming: All voters in Democratic primary in April 2020
* Parties will conduct an RCV tally until all candidates exceed 15% of the vote

Advisory or option for future uses:

  • Davis, California: adopted in 2006 as an advisory referendum for fair representation form of RCV and awaiting state law change.
  • Ferndale, Michigan: adopted by voters in 2004, awaiting implementation readiness.
  • Memphis, Tennessee: Adopted by voters in 2008, and approved again by voters in 2018. 
  • Santa Clara County, California: approved in charter by voters as option in 1998.
  • Sarasota, Florida: adopted by voters in 2007, awaiting implementation readiness.
  • Utah: A local options bill was passed in 2018 and two cities opted in for 2019. More cities could choose to opt in for the future.
  • Vancouver, Washington: approved in charter by voters as option in 1999.

For overseas voters in runoffs

  • Arkansas: Adopted in 2005, first used 2006, and was extended to all local runoffs in 2007.
  • Alabama: By agreement with a federal court, used in special election for U.S. House, 2013; became law for all federal primary runoffs in 2015.
  • Louisiana: Adopted and used since the 1990s for state and federal general election runoffs; also includes out of state military voters.
  • Mississippi: Adopted in 2014 for use in federal runoffs.
  • South Carolina: Adopted and first used in 2006 for state and federal runoffs.
  • Springfield, Illinois: Adopted in 2007 and used since 2011.

RCV on Campus

Over 50 colleges and universities in the United States use ranked choice voting to elect some or all student government positions. That means that over 700,000 students across the country are empowered with more choice in electing student leaders.

Full list of colleges and universities using RCV for student government elections

Private Organizations and Corporations

Recommended by Robert’s Rules of Order for organizational elections conducted by mail, ranked choice voting is used widely among private associations organizations. Probably its highest profile use by a private organization is in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who use RCV to nominate and select winners of the prestigious Academy Awards. Ranked choice voting in multi-winner elections is commonly used by British organizations as well.

Too many organizations use RCV for a comprehensive list. Here is a partial list of private organizations and corporations using RCV.

Public Elections Internationally

Ranked choice voting is used by every voter in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Malta, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, often with the multi-winner, proportional form of it (“single transferable vote”). RCV also is used in party elections and local elections throughout the English-speaking world, including national leaders of the major conservative parties in Canada and New Zealand and major liberal parties in Canada and United Kingdom.

Examples of uses of RCV include: Australia (federal House of Representatives and nearly all state and local government elections and a multi-winner form of it for senate elections); Ireland (for president and multi-winner form for parliament and many local elections; Malta (multi-winner form for parliament; New Zealand (for mayor and city council in major cities such as Wellington, along with health board elections); Northern Ireland (multi-winner form for regional parliament and most local elections); Scotland (multi=winner form for all local government elections.  In India, Nepal and Pakistan elected officials use the multi-winner from of RCV to select their national senates and in the case of India its president. Forms of RCV are also used to elect the mayor of London and president of Sri Lanka.

International election systems

Benefits of Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked choice voting promotes positive, inclusive and fair elections. These benefits are not merely theoretical. To see how they have improved democracy in recent elections, see:

Promotes Majority Support

Too often, candidates can and do win election to offices like Mayor and Governor despite being opposed by most voters. With ranked choice voting, if no candidate has more than half the vote in first-choices, candidates finishing last are eliminated round-by-round in an instant runoff until two candidates are left. The winning candidate will be the one with majority support when matched against the other. In a multi-winner election, ranked choice voting promotes majority rule because the majority of voters will always be able to elect a majority of seats, without fear that an entrenched minority has used gerrymandered districts to ensure they stay in office.

Discourages Negative Campaigning

In non-ranked choice voting elections, candidates benefit from “mud-slinging” by attacking an opponent’s character instead of sharing their positive vision with voters. With ranked choice voting, candidates do best when they reach out positively to as many voters as possible, including those supporting their opponents. A comprehensive Rutgers University poll of voters in 7 cities with ranked choice voting found that voters report friendlier campaigns and that RCV had majority support in all of the cities using it.

Provides More Choice for Voters

Democracy is strongest when more voices are heard. Too often, to avoid “vote splitting” in which candidates can and do win with very little support (see “Promotes Majority Support” above), efforts are taken to limit the number of candidates who compete. This limits voters’ choices. In some places, that means a low turnout primary election eliminates most of the candidates; in others it means restrictive ballot access laws keep out challengers; and in others it means that candidates are shamed into staying out of the race. Ranked choice voting allows more than two candidates to compete without fear of splitting the vote.


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Saves Money When Replacing Primaries or Runoffs

Many local offices are elected in two rounds of elections; either a primary winnowing the field to two followed by a general election, or a general election followed by a runoff if no candidate has a majority. In either case, the election that takes place outside of the context of the general Election Day often suffers from very weak and unrepresentative turnout, while raising issues of vote splitting in the first round and the possibility of disenfranchising overseas and military voters. Ranked choice voting can accomplish the benefits of a primary/runoff election structure with only one election, avoiding these issues while saving the jurisdiction the costs of running two elections. That's why ranked choice voting is often called "instant runoff voting" when used to elect mayors, governors, and other single-winner offices.

Promotes Reflective Representation

Compared to winner-take-all elections, ranked choice voting in multi-winner contests allows more diverse groups of voters to elect candidates of choice. This promotes diversity of political viewpoint as well as diversity of candidate background and demographics. Even in single-winner races, ranked choice voting can promote the representation of historically under-represented groups like racial and ethnic minorities and women. A report co-authored by FairVote and the New America Foundation found that racial minority populations prefer ranked choice voting and find it easy to use, and that ranked choice voting increased turnout by 2.7 times in San Francisco.

Minimizes Strategic Voting

Voters should be able to vote for candidates they support, not just against candidates they oppose most. Yet in elections without ranked choice voting, voters may feel that they need to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” because their favorite candidate is less likely to win. With ranked choice voting, you can honestly rank candidates in order of choice without having to worry about how others will vote and who is more or less likely to win.

Mitigates Impact of Money in Politics

Too often, candidates win by barraging opponents with a slew of expensive, negative ads, rather than building a positive, grassroots campaign for support. Candidates who have run and won in ranked choice voting elections have been successful because they built grassroots outreach networks. Those more positive and inclusive campaign tactics cost less than polarizing negative radio and television elections, helping to explain why candidates seem able to win ranked choice voting elections even when outspent.

The Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) Act (H.R. 4464), sponsored by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D- Maryland) and a group of House colleagues, would make our elections fairer, more efficient, and more representative for all U.S. Senate and House primaries and general elections. The Act would require that all U.S. House and Senate elections be conducted with ranked choice voting beginning in 2022. It would replace all congressional runoff elections.


Already used for congressional elections in Maine and in dozens of state and local contexts, RCV makes elections better for both voters and candidates by ensuring that winners will be elected with more than half of the votes.

The RCV Act is constitutional, as Congress has the right to determine how its members are elected. The Act would ensure states receive federal funding to help them transition to RCV and to educate voters.

Here’s how it works - it’s all about more options for voters: 


Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates they like best in order of choice while still giving them the option to choose just one candidate. 

A candidate wins outright if ranked first by more than half of the voters. Otherwise, the candidate in last place with the fewest first choices is eliminated, and voters who ranked that candidate as their “number 1” will have their votes count for their next ranked choice.This process continues until a candidate wins with more than half of the votes. 



How does ranked choice voting work?

Instead of choosing just one person on your congressional ballot, you rank all of them in order of preference. If someone earns more than half the votes, they win, just like any other election. If not, the person with the fewest is eliminated and everyone who picked that person as ‘number 1’ has their votes count for their second choices. This continues until someone has a majority of votes. 

This means no more candidates winning without majority support. It also ends eliminates vote-splitting and spoiler candidates. Instead, voters feel free to choose who they really like - as many as they like- knowing their choices truly count toward electing their representative. 

Why do we need the Ranked Choice Voting Act?

RCV improves democracy by promoting positive, inclusive and fair elections. RCV promotes majority support: Currently, candidates often win elections with less than 50 percent of the vote, meaning they were actually opposed by most voters. With RCV, if no candidate has more than half the vote after the first round, candidates finishing last are eliminated round-by-round via an instant runoff until two candidates are left. The winning candidate will be the one with majority support when matched against the other. 

What does the Ranked Choice Voting Act do?

This is especially important in congressional primaries. Upwards of 80 percent of all congressional districts are not competitive and largely wired for one party or the other, so a low-turnout primary can determine who will represent an entire district. In Massachusetts in 2018, for example, one Congressional member won with a mere 21 percent of the vote in a summer primary.

RCV discourages negative campaigning. With RCV candidates succeed when they reach out positively to as many voters as possible and seek support -- and second-choice votes -- by talking to everyone, including those supporting their opponents. When a politician needs second choice votes to win, they’re incentivized to share their own vision rather than tear down another. This mitigates the extremism and polarization in our politics.

RCV provides more choice and minimizes “strategic voting.” Several candidates can compete for a seat without worrying about splitting the vote or creating a “spoiler” effect. Voters can vote for the candidate they like the most without worrying that they will help elect the candidate they like least. This opens our politics to more voices and ideas.

RCV saves money. It mimics an instant runoff, but with only one election, rather than selecting a winner with a costly and low-turnout second election.

How does the Ranked Choice Voting Act compare to the Fair Representation Act? 

When Americans vote with RCV, studies show they really like the extra options. After all, what's more American than greater choice? The RCV Act is the simplest and most direct path to bringing RCV to every American, making votes more meaningful and results more fair. The Fair Representation Act remains our gold standard for effectively ending gerrymandering, and we'll continue working toward its passage.

Supporting Research and Handouts

Endorsers of the Ranked Choice Voting Act

Congressional Sponsors:


Problems RCV Can Help Solve

Avoiding Split Votes and Counter-Majoritarian Outcomes

Too often, candidates can and do win election to offices like Governor despite being opposed by most voters. That’s because when more than two candidates run, a majority of votes may be split among the two or more losing candidates. For example, in Maine, nine of the 11 gubernatorial elections between 1994 and 2014 were won with less than 50% of votes.

With ranked choice voting for single-winner offices, if no candidate has a majority in first-choices, the candidates in last place will be eliminated one-by-one. If a voter's first choice is eliminated, their vote instantly goes to their second choice. That way, we can find out which of the top candidates has real majority support.

With ranked choice voting for multi-winner offices like city councils and state legislatures, a majority of voters will always have the power to elect a majority of seats. If a group big enough to elect two candidates votes overwhelmingly for one, that candidate's extra support will spill over to help their next choices. Similarly, a group big enough to elect one candidate will always be able to elect one candidate, even if they split their support among several, because the candidates in last place will be eliminated one-by-one until a candidate gets enough votes to win.

Eliminating Expensive and Unnecessary Primary or Runoff Elections

In some places without ranked choice voting, if no candidate has a majority vote, a second election is held in which only the two candidates with the most support in the first election run. Those candidates must campaign again - often in a very negative head-to-head race - and voters must return to the polls to vote again. If this runoff election occurs after Election Day, usually turnout plummets in the second round. If instead the first round occurs before Election Day, as in a nonpartisan primary, then turnout is often very low in the first round, giving a small and less representative group of voters the power to knock out most of the candidates.

With ranked choice voting, a jurisdiction can get the benefit of two rounds of voting in a single, more representative, higher turnout election. That is why ranked choice voting is often called “instant runoff voting.” In this context, RCV can save the jurisdiction a lot of money - the entire cost of a second election - while helping promote majority rule and civil campaigning. This has been the motivation for the adoption of RCV in places like San Francisco (replacing runoffs) and Minneapolis (replacing primaries).

Including Military and Overseas Voters in Runoff Elections

Protecting the right to vote for men and women serving overseas in the armed forces or living abroad is of the highest importance. In places with runoff elections, including deployed military and other overseas voters means sending and receiving ballots multiple times: once for the first election and then again for the second. However, international mail takes time, and so military and overseas voters may not have time to receive, complete, and return a runoff ballot before the day of the election, which is why federal law requires at least 45 days between rounds of voting in federal elections. Still, many state and local runoff elections occur as little as one week after the first round, effectively disenfranchising overseas and military voters.

With RCV ballots, a military or overseas voter can vote in the first round and then rank their back-up candidates. Then, when the runoff occurs, the ranked ballot is counted for whichever candidate in the runoff the overseas voter ranked highest. As of 2016, five states use RCV ballots to include overseas and military voters in runoff elections: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Illinois has created the option for local jurisdictions to use this reform as well, and Springfield, IL has adopted it pursuant to that option. 

RCV ballots can also help overseas and military voters participate in presidential primaries. Rather than returning a ballot only to find that it can’t be counted because their candidate withdrew by the time the ballot was counted, they can return a ranked ballot, so that their vote can count for their next choice if their favorite has withdrawn.

For more information, see FairVote's Policy Guide items for RCV ballots for military and overseas voters.

Improving the “Top Two” System

The Top Two system used in California and Washington replaces party primaries with a blanket preliminary election, followed by a general election between only the top two candidates from that preliminary contest. Although Top Two has admirable goals, it results in a general election that typically features only the top Republican and Democrat and no other choices, or even two Republicans or two Democrats with no other choices. And often such races happen as the result of vote splitting among a large number of candidates in the preliminary contest.

To enhance voter choice, the same primary election could advance more than two candidates. For example, with “Top Four,” the top four candidates from the preliminary contest advance to the general election. RCV can help accommodate the inclusion of more candidates in the general election. FairVote research shows that Top Four would result in many more competitive races both between and within political parties, as well as do more to include candidates outside of the two major parties.

For more information, see Top Four.

Promoting Fair Representation for All When Electing a Legislature in Multi-Winner Districts

All states and all congressional elections currently use winner-take-all rules that elevate district lines over voters. Legislatures elected by winner-take-all are characterized by distortions in partisan representation, entrenchment of incumbents in safe seats, regional polarization, and low representation of women and racial and ethnic minorities. When combined with multi-winner districts electing at least three members, ranked choice voting helps to make elections fairer and more reflective in every district. This ends the cycle of gerrymandering, and creates competitive elections in which every vote really counts.

To see how this can work for the U.S. House of Representatives, see FairVote's Ranked Choice Voting Act.

To see how it can impact your community, see FairVote's Policy Guide item for RCV for at-large local elections.

To see how multi-winner RCV is working in Cambridge, Massachusetts, see Spotlight: Cambridge

CCD_Grid.jpgHow RCV Works

Ranked choice voting (RCV) describes voting systems that allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference, and then uses those rankings to elect candidates able to combine strong first choice support with the ability to earn second and third choice support.

RCV is straightforward for voters: rank candidates in order of choice. Voters can rank as many candidates as they want, without fear that ranking others will hurt the chances of their favorite candidate. Exit polls and ballot analyses from ranked choice voting elections demonstrate that voters overwhelmingly understood how to rank candidates.

How the votes are counted depends on whether RCV is used to elect a single office, like a mayor or governor, or if it is used to elect more than one position at once, like for a city council or state legislature or for Congress in a multi-winner district.

When Electing One Candidate to Office

For a single office, like for a mayor or governor, RCV helps to elect a candidate more reflective of a majority of voters in a single election even when several viable candidates are in the race. It does this by counting the votes in rounds:

Voters get to rank candidates in order of choice. If a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, they win, just like any other election. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as ‘number 1’ will have their votes count for their next choice. This process continues until a candidate wins with more than half of the votes.  This video demonstrates the process:

Note that when used to elect a single office, ranked choice voting may be called instant runoff voting, because it allows a jurisdiction to have the benefits of runoff elections without the need for a second round of voting.

When Electing More Than One Candidate in a Multi-Winner Election

For a multi-winner election, like a city council elected at-large or a state legislature elected in a multi-winner district, RCV helps to elect candidates more reflective of the spectrum of voters.

Ranked choice voting in multi-winner elections is an American form of proportional representation. This means candidates who receive a certain share of votes will be elected; this share of votes is called the threshold. A candidate who reaches the threshold is elected, and any excess votes over the threshold are then counted for the voters’ second choices. Then, after excess votes are counted, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes counted for their second choice. This process continues until all seats are filled. This video demonstrates the process:

For a more detailed explanation, including a table showing results from a hypothetical election, see our Multi-Winner RCV Example page.

For details on how this could work to transform the U.S. House of Representatives into a much more effective and representative body, see FairVote’s proposed Fair Representation Act.

Note that when used to elect a multiple candidates to office, ranked choice voting is a form of fair representation voting, and it may be called single transferable vote or STV.


What is ranked choice voting?

Ranked choice voting (RCV) is used in cities and states across the country. It’s easy and allows for true voter expression because it lets voters rank candidates in order of choice. Those rankings ensure that as many voters as possible will help elect a candidate they support.

RCV has a long history, and is currently used in U.S. elections in cities nationwide including: Cambridge, Massachusetts, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, the Bay Area cities of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro, and mostly recently in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Since 2018, RCV has been used for elections to federal offices by the entire state of Maine. Additionally, five states and one city use ranked choice ballots to ensure that overseas and military voters can fully express their choices in elections that may go to a runoff. 

Globally, RCV is widely used in the English-speaking world, including in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Its single-winner method is recommended by Robert’s Rules of Order for elections when repeated voting is impractical and, as a result, is widely used in non-governmental elections.

Is ranked choice voting the same as instant runoff voting/single transferable vote/preference voting/the alternative vote?

Yes. The terms "instant runoff voting (IRV)," "single transferable vote (STV)," "preference voting," and "the alternative vote," all refer to ranked choice voting.

Usually, the term "instant runoff voting" or "IRV" only refers to electing a single-winner office like mayor or governor, because when used to elect one candidate, RCV allows a jurisdiction to have the benefits of multiple runoff elections, but voters only need to vote once.

The term "single transferable vote" or "STV" usually refers to electing a multi-winner office, like a city council or legislature. It is a "single" vote, because every voter has one vote - as compared with block voting, in which voters may vote for more than one candidate if more than one will be elected - and it is a "transferable" vote, because it uses round-by-round tabulation in which votes may "transfer" from candidates who are elected or who are defeated in the prior round.

See our glossary for more details and other terms.

Why is ranked choice voting better?

Ranked choice voting (RCV) has a number of benefits which include rewarding candidates who can gain broad support, incentivizing positive campaigning, and providing voters with more choices. In multi-winner districts, RCV promotes fairer and more inclusive representation than winner-take-all methods. For example, the Fair Representation Act for Congress would help ensure that representatives to Congress better represent the full spectrum of voter opinion in the United States and have more incentive to work across party lines in the interest of their constituents.

For more detail, see Benefits of Ranked Choice Voting and Problems RCV Can Help Solve.

How does ranked choice voting work?

Voters get to rank candidates in order of choice. If a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, they win, just like any other election. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as ‘number 1’ will have their votes count for their next choice.This process continues until a candidate wins with more than half of the votes. In single-winner elections, like for mayor or governor, that means ranked choice voting helps to elect a candidate with majority (50% +1) support. In multi-winner ranked choice voting elections smaller groups of voters together elect one of the winners.

To see how ranked choice voting works in detail, see How Ranked Choice Voting Works.

Where is ranked choice voting used?

Ranked choice voting has been used for federal elections in Maine and for municipal elections in 13 U.S. cities. It is also slated for use by seven additional cities in their upcoming election cycle - bringing the total number of states using RCV to 10. Additionally, five states use RCV for overseas and military voters, particularly in places with runoff elections. More than 50 U.S. colleges and universities use ranked choice voting to elect student government officers. Internationally, it is used by every voter in six countries and in local elections in many more. Ranked choice voting is recommended for private organizations by Roberts Rules of Order, and many private organizations use it, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for both nominating and selecting the winners of its prestigious “Oscar” awards. For more information, see the following resources:

Ranked Choice Voting in U.S. Elections 
Ranked Choice Voting on Campus
Ranked Choice Voting in Private Organizations and Corporations 
International Election Systems

What about other “alternative” voting reforms, like Top Two, party list proportional representation, cumulative voting, approval voting, or others?

There are many ways to elect representatives. Although they all have some benefits and some flaws, FairVote has identified ranked choice voting as the most empowering and effective voting method for use in United States elections, from city councils to Congress. To learn more about other methods, see the following resources:

For other forms of proportional representation, see Other Fair Voting Methods

For our research and critique of “Top Two,” see Top Four

For alternative single-winner election methods like approval voting, see Alternatives to Ranked Choice Voting

Ask a question


Adopting ranked choice voting is not about changing who wins, but how they win. That’s why Americans from every part of the political spectrum have recognized ranked choice voting as a fairer way to elect our political leaders.

Giving voters meaningful choice, ensuring majority rule and fair representation, encouraging more civil campaigns, and eliminating costly, low-turnout runoff elections simply aren’t partisan goals. Better elections are something we can all get behind, which is why prominent politicians and notable membership organizations have supported ranked choice voting - also known as “instant runoff voting” or “preferential voting” - for years. The list below highlights some of these people and groups.

Federal Officeholders

Statewide Officeholders

State Legislative and Local Officeholders

League of Women Voters State and Local Groups

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minneapolis
  • Minnesota
  • Montgomery County (MD)
  • North Carolina
  • Oakland
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Tacoma-Pierce County (WA)
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Political Parties & Clubs

  • Alameda County (CA) Democratic Party
  • Alaska Republican Party
  • California Democratic Party
  • Colorado Democratic Party
  • Green Party
  • Libertarian Party
  • Maine Democratic Party
  • Massachusetts Democratic Party
  • Minneapolis, MN DFL Party
  • Progressive Democrats of America
  • Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles
  • San Francisco (CA) Democratic Party

Research on Ranked Choice Voting

The following briefly describes and links to research on the use of ranked choice voting. This page was last updated April, 2019. For more detailed information, check out our research page on ranked choice voting

Taken together, this research suggests that ranked choice voting, whether used in single-winner or multi-winner elections, helps promote inclusive and civil campaigning, and that voters of all demographics use it effectively. When used in multi-winner elections, it also promotes fair representation and good governance based on a variety of metrics.

Independent scholarly research

Self-Reported Understanding of Ranked-Choice Voting

Todd Donovan (Western Washington University), Caroline Tolbert (University of Iowa), and Kellen Gracey (University of Iowa)

Available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ssqu.12651

  • Researchers conducted an immediate post-election survey of voters in four California jurisdictions that used RCV in November, 2014, while simultaneously surveying voters in similar California jurisdictions electing with single-choice plurality. The surveys asked voters how well they understood voting instructions and how well they understood various electoral systems including ranked choice voting, plurality voting, "winner-take-all voting rules" and the state's top two primary system. The results did not show any significant racial or ethnic differences in understanding of either voting instructions or electoral systems.

Campaign civility under preferential and plurality voting

Todd Donovan (Western Washington University), Caroline Tolbert (University of Iowa), and Kellen Gracey (University of Iowa)

Available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261379416000299

  • In November 2013, 2,400 likely voters in 10 cities were surveyed about their local elections. Three cities had just held local elections using RCV (Minneapolis and St. Paul (MN) and Cambridge (MA)), and seven control cities had used plurality voting in their November elections. The surveys show that likely voters in cities that used RCV were more satisfied with the conduct of local campaigns than people in similar cities with plurality (first-past-the-post) elections, and were more likely to have in-person contact with candidates for office. People in cities with RCV were also less likely to view campaigns as negative, and less likely to respond that candidates were frequently criticizing each other. The results are consistent across a series of robustness checks.

Voter participation with ranked choice voting in the United States

David C. Kimball (University of Missouri-St. Louis) and Joseph Anthony

Available at http://www.umsl.edu/~kimballd/KimballRCV.pdf

  • This study examines the degree to which voters turn out to vote and properly cast their votes, comparing ranked choice voting to plurality voting in the United States. It compares demographically similar cities with RCV and plurality voting. It finds that RCV helps increase voter participation in decisive elections when reducing the substantial drop in voter participation that commonly occurs between primary and general elections and between first round and runoff elections, but otherwise does not appear to have a strong positive or negative impact on voter turnout and ballot completion. In a case study of Minneapolis, it finds similar levels of socioeconomic and racial disparities in voter participation in plurality as in RCV elections. The study found no increase in total residual voters (meaning total ballots where voters skipped voting in the election or invalidated their ballot in that election) compared to non-RCV elections. This is particularly significant finding in California city elections with RCV, because they are held at the same time as non-RCV races like president or governor that appear first on the ballot and are the bigger drivers of participation. Kimball and Anthony have updated their research for presentation at the September 2016 American Political Science Association conference and are preparing to submit their work for publication in the fall.

The alternative vote: Do changes in single-member voting systems affect descriptive representation of women and minorities?

Sarah John, Haley Smith and Elizabeth Zack

Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261379417304006

  • This study compares cities with ranked choice voting in the California Bay Area to a series of similar control cities. Using a difference-in-difference research design, it shows that applying ranked choice voting to single-winner elections has not caused any decline in descriptive representation, and has improved representation of women and women of color.

FairVote research

Ranked choice voting in 2018: A mid-year report

Available at https://www.fairvote.org/ranked_choice_voting_in_2018_a_mid_year_report

  • This white paper summarizes and analyzes various data points from elections taking place between March and June of 2018, including in Santa Fe (NM), San Francisco (CA), and in Maine's state and federal primary elections. In particular, voter turnout surpassed expectations in all three jurisdictions, implementation of RCV was smooth and inexpensive, voters used the ballot well, and winners demonstrated both strong core support and broad back-up support. 

Voter experience with ranked choice voting in San Francisco: Voter turnout and use of rankings, 2004-2016

Available at https://www.fairvote.org/voter_experience_with_ranked_choice_voting_in_san_francisco

  • This report analyzes data from the 68 ranked choice voting elections that took place in San Francisco from 2004-2016. It finds that San Francisco voters have generally made effective use of the ranked choice ballot despite the limitations of San Francisco's legacy voting equipment, especially compared to the prior system based on two-round runoff elections. In contests with multiple candidates that required multiple rounds of counting, voters are increasingly likely to rank second and third choices; 74.5 percent of ballots rank at least two candidates and 60.8 percent rank three (the maximum allowed on the San Francisco ballot). Skipped rankings are rare and have become rare over time. Overvotes are also rare, and occur at comparable rates to non-RCV races with similar numbers of candidates.

Structural electoral reform: Impact, methods, and opportunities

Available at http://www.fairvote.org/comparative-structural-reform

  • This 2015 report presents an extensive assessment of the potential impact of 37 structural reforms to election laws and legislative structures in collaboration with fourteen prominent political scientists. The participating scholars were asked to assess each reform’s impact on 16 different criteria fitting within four topline categories: legislative functionality, electoral accountability, voter engagement, and openness of process. In the scholars’ assessment, the three structural reforms that would have the greatest positive impact on U.S. democracy are two forms of multi-winner RCV (ranked choice voting in five-winner districts, and ranked choice voting in three-winner districts) and Districts Plus (a form of mixed-member proportional representation). Single winner forms of RCV were also judged to have a positive impact compared to many of the other reforms that were analyzed. The report also includes background information on each reform with links to a large number of scholarly resources.

Ranked choice voting and racial minority voting rights

Available at https://www.fairvote.org/rcv_and_racial_minority_voting_rights_in_the_bay_area

  • Assessment of the election rates of people of color in the California Bay Area before and after the adoption of RCV. People of color hold office at a higher rate under RCV than under the prior system. People of color win office more often under RCV across three ways of categorizing districts: plurality-minority (districts where one ethnic minority group is the largest in the district); white-plurality (districts where ethnic minority groups are collectively in the majority but whites are the single largest group); and white-majority.

Ranked choice voting in practice: Candidate civility in ranked choice elections, 2013 & 2014 survey brief

Available at https://fairvote.app.box.com/v/APSA-Civility-Brief-2015

  • The Eagleton Poll at Rutgers University conducted two polls—one in 2013 and another in 2014—that explore the impact of RCV on city elections in the United States. In both surveys, more respondents in cities using RCV reported candidates spent less time criticizing opponents than in cities that did not use RCV. More respondents in cities using RCV reported less negative campaigns than in cities that did not use RCV. In the 2013 survey, 90% of respondents in RCV cities found the RCV ballot easy to understand; 89% of respondents in RCV cities in California found the RCV ballot easy to understand. A majority of all respondents in both surveys believed RCV should be used in local elections in their city. Support was greatest in cities already using RCV.

Voter understanding and use of ranked choice voting

Available at https://fairvote.app.box.com/v/RCVunderstandingmemo

  • This memo focuses on voter experience with RCV in U.S. cities, based on analysis of RCV ballots after they were cast and public opinion surveys. It summarizes research suggesting that voters understand RCV at levels comparable other systems (like the “Top Two” primary used in California and Washington) and that they readily use the option to rank candidates for local offices. It provides detailed information on overvote and undervote rates in RCV elections. Notably, more than 99% of voters in Bay Area elections cast an RCV ballot that counts and more than eight in ten rank more than one candidate in competitive multi-candidate mayoral elections.

Impact of ranked choice voting on representation: How ranked choice voting affects women and people of color in California


Available at https://fairvote.app.box.com/v/RCV-Representation-BayArea

  • This study examines the effect of ranked choice voting on women and people of color running for elected office in the California Bay Area. San Francisco began using RCV in 2004 for their city elections, followed by Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro in 2010. Women and people of color hold more than 80% of these cities’ 52 offices that have been elected by RCV. The findings of the study reveal that RCV increases descriptive representation for women, people of color, and women of color. Some reasons for RCV’s positive effects can be related to how often it replaces low, unrepresentative turnout elections and that it allows for multiple candidates appealing to the same community to run without splitting the vote. The unambiguously positive impact of RCV on descriptive representation encourages further study.

Escaping the thicket: The ranked choice voting solution to America’s districting crisis

Available at https://fairvote.app.box.com/v/EscapingtheThicket

  • In this law review article, FairVote staff make the case for the use of multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting for U.S. congressional elections. It reviews the history of plurality voting in U.S. congressional elections, and how this emphasis on single-winner elections intersects with the Voting Rights Act, which makes vote dilution of racial and ethnic minority populations illegal. In some cases brought under the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions have adopted semi-proportional voting methods rather than the use of single-winner districts. The articles reviews what makes those voting methods most effective, and concludes that they would have their most potent application in congressional elections. It lays out a proposal for multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting for congressional elections and describes its likely impact.

The Fair Representation Act report

Available at https://www.fairvote.org/fair_representation_act_report

  • This report analyzes the impact of a series of hypothetical district maps generated by Auto-Redistrict, an open source redistricting algorithm programmed to approximate the requirements of the Fair Representation Act of 2017, HR 3057. It assumes the use of multi-winner ranked choice voting, as required by the bill, in the automatically generated multi-winner district maps. It finds that the system implemented by the bill would result in greater competition and accountability, more accurate and actual representation, great opportunities for moderates and independents, and better descriptive representation.

RCV and Election Administration

FairVote supports election administrators in their goal to make RCV elections as easy as possible for voters and poll-workers and ensuring that everyone involved can be confident in the security and accuracy of the results.

Election administration includes every aspect of carrying out the election according to its requirements in law. That includes ballot design, acquisition of voting systems (the suite of hardware and software used for voting and vote-counting), the establishment and administration of polling places, alternative arrangements for absentee or overseas voters as well as early voting, accuracy testing and audits, election results reporting, and much more. Although many in election administration worry that implementation of ranked choice voting will complicate these tasks, experience proves that administering a ranked choice voting election can be as efficient and effective as any other election.

The Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center is the leading resource for election administration officials tasked with carrying out an RCV election, and provides a compilation of best practices and first-hand experiences from jurisdictions that have used ranked choice voting. The website and overall project serve as a resource for voters, election administrators, policy makers, and candidates.

You can also access resources on our website related to ballot design, vote counting options, voting systems, RFPs, and audits/recounts on our RCV and Election Administration page. 

Try RCV using OpaVote

FairVote is partnering with OpaVote, a platform that allows users to try different types of voting systems like Ranked Choice Voting! You can try it for free, just sign-up!


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