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RCV and Representation
Different voting systems may impact the representation of the full spectrum of voter opinions, experiences and interests. This page explores research into the representation of different groups under ranked choice voting and other American election systems.
Representation for Women and People of Color
A 2018 paper by Sarah John, Haley Smith, and Elizabeth Zack shows that California cities which adopted RCV saw an increase in the percentage of candidates of color running for office, and increases in the probability of female candidates and female candidates of color winning office. (The author refers to the reform as “the alternative vote” or “AV” which is synonymous with ranked choice voting.) Learn more from this write-up by author Sarah John.
John, S., Smith, H., & Zack, E. August 2018. The alternative vote: Do changes in single-member voting systems affect descriptive representation of women and minorities?
- A 2019 FairVote report on racial minority voting rights shows that people of color hold office at a higher rate under RCV than under the prior system, and that people of color win office more often since the adoption of RCV.
FairVote. November 2019. Ranked Choice Voting and Racial Minority Voting Rights.
- In 2014, FairVote's Andrew Douglas used ballot image data to show a pattern of racially and ethnically cohesive voting among Cambridge, MA, city council voters. The report demonstrates that at-large RCV benefited candidates from ethnic and political minority groups. The benefit is attributed primarily to the low electoral threshold which allows minority groups to have representation based roughly on their share of the population.
Douglas, Andrew. February 2014. The Effect of Fair Representation Voting on 2013 Cambridge Municipal Elections
- A 2016 Fairvote report examines the effect of RCV on women and people of color running for elected office in the California Bay Area. The findings 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.
John, S., Smith, H., & Zack, E. July 2016. Ranked Choice Voting and Representation of Underrepresented Groups.
Representation for Differing Political Viewpoints
Roughly 40% of voters self-identify as Independent according to Gallup polling. In spite of their numerousness, unaffiliated voters have little influence in Congress or in most state legislatures.
- RCV impacts the prospects for independent and third party voters and candidates. While single-winner RCV might not increase the election of minor party candidates in the US, as candidates must clear a majority threshold in order to win, RCV allows supporters of those candidates to sincerely rank their preferred candidate first without feeling like their votes are wasted and with minimal chance that support will spoil the election outcome.
- In multi-winner RCV, it also becomes possible for Democrat or Republican voters who live in a district with the opposite majority to gain representation. As long as the Democrat or Republican population is equal to or greater than the threshold to win, people can gain representation where they currently feel left out.
- A 2016 FairVote report explores how RCV might reduce legislative polarization by allowing space for moderate, conservative, liberal and other voters to elect candidates in proportion to their overall numbers in the electorate. Evidence for Cambridge, Massachusetts, which uses multi-winner RCV, indicates that candidates and city councilors are not highly polarized there.
John, S. & Leinz, B. April 2016. Polarization and Multi-winner Ranked Choice Voting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, City Council Elections.