FAQ

FAQ

What is ranked choice voting?

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

Ranked choice voting has a long history, and is currently used in U.S. elections in cities nationwide: 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. As of 2018, it has been used for federal offices by the entire state of Maine. Additionally, four states 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, ranked choice voting is widely used in the English-speaking world, including in at least one election by every voter in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Its single-winner method is recommended by Robert’s Rules of Order for elections of officers when repeated voting is impractical and, as a result, 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," "single transferable vote," "preference voting," "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 a single time.

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 to 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 has a number of benefits, which includes 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?

Ranked choice voting is simple for voters: rank candidates in order of choice. The votes are counted, starting with first choices and moving on to second and third choices if no candidate reaches the threshold to win in first choices alone. In a single-winner election like for mayor or governor, that means that ranked choice voting helps to elect a candidate with majority support. In a multi-winner ranked choice voting elections, smaller groups of voters 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 adopted for federal elections in Maine, and for U.S. cities in ten states, with another dozen cities poised to implement in their coming elections. It is used by overseas and military voters in places with runoff elections in five other states. Over 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 Awards in both nominating and selecting the winner for its prestigious awards. For more detail, 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 they all have 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 criticism of “Top Two,” see Top Four
For alternative single-winner election methods like approval voting, see Alternatives to Ranked Choice Voting

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