Research Reports

The History of Ranked Choice Voting in Maine

Posted on December 13, 2019

The movement for ranked choice voting (RCV) has seen a number of successes over the past few years. One of the greatest examples comes from the state of Maine. While well worth the fight, Maine’s transition to RCV required repeated struggles by the state’s voters against numerous challenges, both legislative and in court. The tumult led one court to claim, “[t]he history of ranked-choice voting in Maine to date could provide the substance of an entire civics course on the creation of statutory law in the State of Maine.” This report follows the story of the implementation and use of RCV in Maine with the aim of highlighting instructive examples of wins and setbacks to serve as a roadmap for RCV advocates across the country.

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Federal Primary Election Runoffs and Voter Turnout Decline

Posted on October 18, 2019

Primary runoff elections are held after an initial election when no candidate surpasses a predetermined vote threshold (typically 50%, although lower in some states). In a runoff, the top two vote recipients from the initial round compete, and the candidate who receives the most votes in the runoff becomes the party’s nominee.

Runoffs increase the likelihood that a party’s nominee is representative of the party’s primary voters. They also give voters in the first round an enhanced ability to express their preferences without “wasting” their votes on a candidate whom they prefer, but who has little chance of winning. In a runoff system, voters can vote for the candidate they most strongly support in the first election. If that candidate advances to the runoff, the voters can back them again. If that candidate does not advance to the runoff, voters can then express their preference for whichever of the top two candidates they prefer.

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of runoff elections is the decrease in voter turnout for the runoff stage of the primary. Decreased turnout dilutes the main benefit of a runoff: improving representation by allowing voters in primaries to select a candidate with broad popular support. In the United States, primary runoff turnout rates often plunge so low that the democratic legitimacy of the elections is cast into doubt.

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History of Congressional Elections

Posted on February 06, 2019

In the coming months, U.S. Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia plans to reintroduce the Fair Representation Act, reviving the bold new vision for congressional elections originally put forth in his 2017 legislation by the same name.

Multi-member congressional districts with ranked choice voting remain new ideas to many, but the proposals are increasingly gaining traction among elected officials and news media, including the editorial board of The New York Times. Moreover, the idea is not a new one. Each element drew upon a rich history of local, state, and federal approaches to elections. Finally, its approach was consistent with centuries of congressional action to address problems in federal elections

In this white paper, we show how that history evolved since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788, along with how progress has stalled since 1967. With the dysfunction of the current system more apparent each election cycle, the time has come to revisit how we elect the "People's House."

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America's Primary Problem

Posted on December 17, 2018

According to the civics class model of American democracy, every two years voters pick a representative in Congress from the nominees of the two major parties. With two candidates, the winner is guaranteed to have the support of the majority. To provide even more choice, voters pick the party nominee in primary elections. American elections are open to any political party, but Americans by tradition consistently prefer Democrats and Republicans. As this analysis of the 2016 election returns for the U.S. House of Representatives demonstrates, almost every element of the civics class model is at odds with the facts.

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Ranked Choice Voting's Moment in Ann Arbor

Posted on September 10, 2018


The story of ranked choice voting in Ann Arbor, Michigan is one of conflict, compromise and collapse. It’s the story of a group of college students—radical in their political beliefs and newly emboldened by the Vietnam war—who formed a third party and aggressively challenged establishment politics. It’s also the story of an election night as dramatic as any, a contest decided by a handful of votes that elected the city’s first (and, to date, only) black mayor. And finally, it’s a story of powerful backlash, swift enough to repeal RCV in Ann Arbor just two years after its adoption.

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Reconsidering the Presidential Recount System

Posted on August 23, 2018

RecountsReportCover.PNGThe power and prominence of the office of the President is wholly unique in the American political system. This warrants greater scrutiny to presidential elections. However, no national minimum standard exists for ensuring the integrity of presidential elections. Each state may choose to adopt any post-election verification process or none at all, and no recourse exists for candidates. A minimum national standard is long overdue.

This report proposes to increase order and reliability in presidential recounts with federal legislation that respects state control over elections while establishing procedures for a timely and less contentious recount process.

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The Forgotten Results & Future Promise of Ranked Choice Voting in Ohio

Posted on July 24, 2018

Screen_Shot_2018-07-24_at_3.38.55_PM.pngOhio has a rich history of being an electoral battleground. Consequently, it also has a deep record of being the frontline for struggles encompassing voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, and fair representation issues. Historical examination of this struggle reveals that Ohio’s communities have a history of using ranked choice voting (RCV) as a means to combat the partisan interests that have long swamped the state. Ohio should look to its past use of RCV for solutions to its current election woes.

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Ranked Choice Voting in 2018: A Mid-Year Report

Posted on July 18, 2018

Ranked Choice Voting in 2018: A Mid-Year Report

Screen_Shot_2018-07-10_at_2.07.51_PM.pngIn the first half of 2018, nearly half a million voters ranked their choices in elections for the most important offices in their communities. First, on March 6, voters in Santa Fe, New Mexico elected their first full-time mayor in an open seat race among five candidates. Then, on June 5, voters in San Francisco elected a new mayor in a hotly-contested special election to fill the empty seat after the tragic death of Mayor Ed Lee late last year. Finally, on June 12, voters in Maine ranked their choices in state and congressional primary elections, with crowded fields in both the Republican and Democratic contests for governor and one congressional primary.

This white paper examines various ways of measuring RCV’s impact in Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Maine. It begins with a short narrative describing the elections in all three jurisdictions, and then considers various metrics, all of which show that RCV is consistent with a healthy, competitive political culture. Key findings include:

  • Voter turnout surpassed expectations in all three jurisdictions.
  • Implementation of RCV was smooth and inexpensive.
  • Voters used the ballot well, ranking their choices and making few errors.
  • Outcomes were fair, with winners demonstrating both strong core support and broad support in their communities

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Explaining FairVote’s position on STAR Voting

Posted on July 11, 2018

Screen_Shot_2018-07-11_at_5.48.43_PM.pngThe most common voting methods, for electing only one winner, in the United States are single-choice plurality and two-round runoff elections. They have given us a politics in which voters have too few choices, a democracy in which turnout suffers and winners may be insufficiently accountable to the electorate. More and more Americans realize the problems inherent in these methods, and ranked choice voting (RCV, also known as “instant runoff voting”) has emerged as a better way to conduct elections. With the growing realization that we should change the status quo, however, other voting methods are getting attention.

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Santa Clara's Measure A and Communities of Color

Posted on May 30, 2018

MeasureACover.PNGIn this short report, FairVote assesses the impact of a proposed charter amendment in Santa Clara on the voting rights of Santa Clara's Asian American and Latino communities. The amendment, which will be on the ballot on June 5, 2018 as Measure A, would institute the use of multi-winner ranked choice voting for Santa Clara's City Council. Specifically, the city would divide into two multi-winner districts, and each would elect three members to the City Council.

The analysis concludes that based on the demographics of each district and voter turnout in prior elections, Measure A would result in dramatically increased political power for communities of color in Santa Clara. Asian American voters would have the power to elect one candidate of choice in each district, and Latino voters would have the power to elect a candidate of choice in one of the two districts. It further analyzes an alternative proposal: multi-winner ranked choice voting in citywide elections for all six seats simultaneously. This would have a similar impact, with potentially better representation of the distinct views of Santa Clara's South Asian and East Asian communities, though it would involve the elimination of staggered elections.

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