Research Reports

Ensuring more voters count in presidential primaries: Exploring the potential of ranked choice voting ballots

Posted on October 08, 2021

This report reviews an important aspect of the Democratic Presidential nomination process in 2020: the advantages of increasing early access to voting, and the unintended consequence it creates for some early voters losing the chance to cast an effective vote.

This report lifts up the experience of state parties that avoided that problem by offering ranked choice voting (RCV) ballots. Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, and Wyoming successfully introduced RCV ballots for all voters, while Nevada used RCV ballots for early voting. This greatly increased the numbers of votes that counted toward candidates earning delegates. Implemented nationally, ranked choice voting ballots likely would have resulted in over four million more Democratic voters having a direct effect on the contest. The Democatic National Committee has an opportunity to support this innovation and ensure votes count in 2024 and beyond.

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Ranked Choice Voting and Incumbent Success

Posted on September 24, 2021

This short report from FairVote examines whether RCV impacts the success rate for incumbent candidates who run for re-election. The analysis compares 8 RCV cities to 12 non-RCV cities to identify which factors contribute to an incumbent's chance of winning reelection, and finds that RCV is not a significant contributing factor. 

The results align with past FairVote work which found that four Bay Area cities saw no change in incumbent success rate before and after they switched to RCV. 

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Ranked Choice Voting Elections Benefit Candidates and Voters of Color

Posted on May 12, 2021

A new report from FairVote examines the ways in which communities of color benefit from ranked choice voting. Key findings include:

Candidates of color benefit from the round-by-round counting process. Winning candidates of color, particularly those who are Black or Hispanic/Latino, grew their vote totals between the first and final ballot rounds at a higher rate than winning White candidates.

Voters of color tend to rank more candidates than White voters. In precincts with more voters of color, voters rank a higher percentage of candidates, indicating a willingness among communities of color to engage with the ranked ballot.

Candidates of color see the strongest gains in districts with a majority of voters of color, including districts where the largest single bloc of voters is White. This suggests that candidates of color are effectively earning votes outside of their own racial and ethnic groups and building broad support across their districts.

Candidates pay no penalty when they run against opponents of the same race or ethnicity. Black candidates are more likely than other candidates to challenge people of the same race or ethnicity, but under RCV they don’t pay a penalty for doing so. Instead of dividing community support, Black candidates who run against other Black candidates in RCV elections have a higher win rate. Candidates of other racial or ethnic backgrounds also experienced an increased win rate when they ran against candidates of the same racial or ethnic background.

 

 

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Primary Runoff Elections and Decline in Voter Turnout

Posted on December 23, 2020

In ten states, a primary runoff election may be held if no candidate wins a majority of the votes cast in their party’s primary. States currently using primary runoffs include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina (30% threshold), Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota (35% threshold), and Texas. FairVote studied voter turnout in all congressional primary runoffs held since 1994. Below are our key findings. 

Near-Universal Decline in Turnout. Turnout declined between the primary and the runoff in 240 of the 248 regularly scheduled primary runoffs in the U.S House and U.S. Senate from 1994 to 2020. In other words, in 97% of primary runoff elections fewer people voted in the second round than in the first. The average decline in turnout was 38% and the median decline was 37%. 

Primary-Runoff Timing a Key Factor. The longer the wait between the initial primary and the runoff, the higher the decrease in voter turnout between elections. Runoffs held between 31 and 40 days after the initial primary have a median turnout decline over three times higher than that of runoffs held between 11 and 20 days after the initial primary. 

Runoffs Nominate Winning Candidates for the General Election. Of the 248 runoffs in this time period, 79 (32%) resulted in a primary winner who trailed in the first round. Forty-one of these went on to win the general election. These congresspeople had the broadest support in their districts, but would not have been elected to Congress under plurality voting. Despite their faults regarding voter turnout decline, runoffs aim to achieve an important goal: avoiding unrepresentative winners who do not have majority support.

A spreadsheet with the raw data can be found here.

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Monopoly Politics 2020: The Root of Dysfunction in the U.S. House of Representatives

Posted on December 17, 2020

FairVote’s Monopoly Politics is a biennial project conducted before each election cycle to predict the results of all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. First developed in 1997 as a forerunner to the Cook Partisan Voting Index and later refined to systematize its weighting of incumbency, Monopoly Politics’ influential methodology relies solely on prior voting patterns to make its predictions, rather than polling data and other inputs that capture more transitory changes in the political landscape. Based on its predictive success, this methodology is sound: Monopoly Politics’ highest confidence projections were over 99% accurate for five of the last six election cycles. 

The key takeaway from Monopoly Politics 2020 is that nearly every election is reinforcing our original insight that partisanship is becoming the primary determinant of electoral outcomes. As the incumbency bump falls and crossover representatives grow rarer, voters are gradually falling back into patterns of local partisanship to elect their representatives, regardless of political experience or name recognition. The result is a polarized system where candidates are rewarded for adopting hyper-partisan platforms, particularly in hyper-partisan districts, instead of championing inclusive policies and bipartisan compromise that benefit all. 

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A Survey and Analysis of Statewide Election Recounts, 2000-2019

Posted on November 04, 2020

The ability to handle a recount of votes to ensure fair, accurate and genuinely democratic outcomes is widely recognized as a critical component of election administration. Trust in elections requires trust in the recount process and ongoing learning about how best to conduct recounts and determine what victory margins and post-elections audit results should trigger a recount.

This report examines 20 years of statewide election recounts and finds that recounts which change the outcome of an election are exceedingly rare and require very narrow margins of victory. The report includes FairVote's recommendations for state recount laws and post-election audit procedures.

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Ranked Choice Voting in Maine Key Statistics from Maine’s Second use of RCV in Federal and State Primaries July 2020

Posted on September 17, 2020

Maine held its second cycle of primary elections using ranked choice voting (RCV) in July 2020. Nine state and federal races used RCV, including the hotly-contested Republican primary for the second congressional district, for which FairVote conducted RCV polling prior to the election.

This report examines the election results based on ballot data. Each of the RCV races had high turnout, strong use of rankings by voters, and low ballot error. In addition, the report compares our poll findings with election results, demonstrating that RCV polling is reliable and accurate.

 

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Ranked Choice Voting in 2020 Presidential Primary Elections

Posted on July 22, 2020

Five state Democratic parties used ranked choice voting (RCV) in presidential primary elections and caucuses in 2020 with great success. Despite a global pandemic, all five states had high rates of success with RCV and, especially in the four states where all voters used RCV, secured accurate and comprehensive election results.

This report examines the results from those states based on ballot data. Results show that voters overwhelmingly took advantage of the option to rank candidates on the ballot, made very few errors, and turned out in large numbers. In a year when millions of early voters in states without RCV cast ballots for presidential candidates who had withdrawn by the time they were counted, RCV made more votes count.

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The Constitutional Justification for the Fair Representation Act

Posted on June 01, 2020

In this analysis, Pamela Keller makes the case for the constitutionality of the The Fair Representation Act (FRA, H.R. 4000). The FRA would require every state to elect Congressional representatives through a form of ranked choice voting known as the “single transferable vote”, use multi-winner rather than single-winner districts, and adopt independent redistricting commissions to draw the new multi-winner districts. 

As the name suggests, the FRA aims to create a more fair system for all states and is a constitutional and necessary regulation of federal elections by Congress that will bring about a new era of proportional representation to match the dynamic and developing opinions and identities of our nation.

 

 

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Uncompetitive and Unrepresented: Voters Locked out of Representation

Posted on April 17, 2020

In this short analysis, we attempt to estimate the number of voters utterly locked out of representation: those who prefer one party but live in a district that is safe for the opposite party. We do so using the partisanship metric from Monopoly Politics along with estimates of eligible voter populations from the United States census. We find that approximately 70 million eligible voters are in that very situation. In a political system that prioritizes geography over all else, the only representative they can call "theirs" goes into Congress to vote against their political interests. This is a severe weakness of our winner-take-all system for electing Congress, one that is largely corrected by the adoption of a multi-winner fair representation system.

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