Interested in joining the movement to fix our democracy? Select your state on the Action Map below and email the corresponding FairVote state partner by emailing (your state)@fairvote.org. You will be connected directly with activists organizing on the ground, or if a group hasn't yet formed in your state, a FairVote organizer will be in touch soon!
Join us for our regional activist summits in Massachusetts, Colorado, Chicago, Tennessee, Washington DC and California! Choose the one closest to you. We'll be talking about how you can get involved organizing around ranked choice voting in your city and state.
The video above gives an overview of best practices in getting your organizing underway. As we discuss, developing a core group of supporters in your area and determining what is an achievable goal to bring RCV to your elections is a critical first step. As you grow your supporter base, assigning roles to stand-out volunteers (including in-person volunteer recruitment; social media engagement; fundraising; and communication with the media, public officials, and civic groups) will be instrumental in ensuring every task that needs to be accomplished has someone who is responsible for completing it.
After your group has determined its objectives and your campaign has begun, there are a number of other best practices you'll want to employ to ensure success.
There are a number of different roles that volunteers can help with on your campaign. Some, like signature gathering, don't generally require a great deal of training and can be done by many people; others are more specialized and require identifying the right person for the job. One of the best ways to figure out which roles should be filled by which volunteers is by having one-on-one (1:1) conversations with prospective volunteers. The structure of a successful 1:1 is as follows:
Getting started with an icebreaker to make sure both you and this new volunteer are comfortable is always a good idea. Then, telling one another your personal stories can be useful not only in getting to know one another but also as a way to convey to others why you're passionate about bringing ranked choice voting to your elections. It is useful for your personal story to follow the structure of "challenge, choice, action, outcome". As the name implies, this means starting by identifying a challenge in your own life. This should tie into the reason why you're involved with this campaign. After speaking to the challenge, you come to the choice: you chose to get involved in this campaign to fix the unfair electoral system we have. Then, what action have you taken as a result of that choice. And finally, how will that choice and ensuing action lead to the outcome you're working toward? Internalizing this structure will help make an inherently abstract idea (i.e., our archaic electoral system and how we can fix it) more relatable in how it can affect people in their real lives.
After you share your personal story, you should attempt to guide them through telling theirs. In addition to the conversation surround their personal story, this should help to give you a sense of how much organizing or political experience they have, what other skills they bring to the table, and what roles you still have to fill which suit their strengths. Positively identifying a volunteer's strengths will be important later in the conversation.
The all-encompassing nature of our electoral system means that so many other things which are important to people are highly dependent on the constraints imposed by the current unrepresentative system. "We will not be able to (fill in the blank -- relating it back to the personal story that they've just shared on why they decided to meet with you) without solving this pressing problem. We've been stuck with this outdated system for too long. If we're ever going to make progress on all the other issues we care about, we need to switch to RCV now." And, it's important to remember, even if you disagree about what those "other issues" are, you are on the same team when it comes to reforming our broken electoral system.
Now, you are both on the same page about the urgency of the need for reform, and you have a good sense of where you're both coming from. The next step is making a "hard ask" to convince them to commit to joining your campaign. Having already identified the future volunteer's strengths earlier in the conversation, you can now honestly tell them, "You are the perfect person for (this role) because [...] Can we count on you to join us?" Hard asks are direct and specific. You should always have a second and third ask ready in case they feel uncomfortable with your first ask, and you should not be afraid to ask for more than you think they are willing to give. However, it is important to recognize that even if you think they are perfect for a specific role, sometimes working up to that additional responsibility will be necessary, and the most important thing is for them to walk away committed to at least some specific action. That can be built on going forward. If done successfully and they agree to join your campaign, you should then discuss what the next steps are for them to get involved, whether attending an upcoming organizing meeting or any other task that they can do in their new role.
The final part of the 1:1 comes after it's over. Following back up to thank them for meeting and to confirm the action items that were agreed upon within a day of your 1:1 ensures continued engagement and that the commitments they made will be followed through on. A great 1:1 can be squandered if not successfully followed up on.
Different campaigns may or may not require phonebanking or canvassing, depending on what you're trying to accomplish and how much of that strategy involves grassroots support. However, should you recognize the need for phonebanking and canvassing, there are a number of best practices to keep in mind.
Internalizing the messaging is key to effectively conveying what you're trying to accomplish to folks who are unaware of the problem you're solving or who are on the fence about whether they agree with your solution. This is often facilitated with a script, which should be practiced with and/or between volunteers to ensure comfort before beginning. More tips on training volunteers are available in the Educate section of the Toolkit. The script should include an introduction of the volunteer as such, for what campaign you're working on, and asking for the specific individual you are targeting in your calling or canvassing.
It is important to recognize that different stages of the campaign call for different types of questions when you are phonebanking and canvassing. Essentially, these can be broken into three phases: ID, persuasion, and GOTV.
ID calls and canvasses are designed to gather data about the current views of specific voters, so that you can begin identifying who your allies are, who your opponents are, and who you should focus on persuading. Identified supporters also become your primary pool of prospective volunteers, and you can save yourself time and energy on outreach to "lost cause" opponents. ID canvassing and phonebanking is crucial, but you should advise volunteers to avoid debating the merits of RCV at this stage, since there is no way to record that information and it detracts from the main goal at this stage of identifying existing support.
After you've developed your "universe" throughout the ID phase, persuasion is the next step. This will require much more extensive knowledge of the arguments for and against the current voting system, as well as ranked choice voting in general. In addition to the script, which should still begin with ID questions before transitioning to new follow-up questions for those leaning but not firm in either direction or still unsure, providing a separate sheet of common talking points is useful at this stage, as it can help volunteers to bolster the case for RCV as they get questions they may be less familiar with.
GOTV stands for Get Out The Vote, and it is the crucial final stage in a campaign, especially one in which voters will decide whether or not to adopt RCV by initiative or by approving changes to a charter or constitution. Get Out The Vote conversations should not engage with the issues at all, but instead focus solely on walking known supporters through their vote plan: where they will be going to the polls, how they plan on getting there, where they'll be coming from, who they'll be going with, and what their back-up plan is. Within about two weeks of an election, persuasion is no longer very effective, but having these conversations with supporters can significantly impact turnout, which could be the difference in whether or not your campaign is successful.
While volunteers should almost universally be steered toward engaging in phonebanking and canvassing if they are able to, it is crucially important that throughout each stage of the campaign you are able to track the data gathered from all of this outreach. That will help you to effectively build your persuasion and GOTV universes and identify your potential volunteers.
There are a number of other best practices that you can employ while phonebanking and canvassing, and we would be happy to answer questions that you have when this stage of your campaign is underway.
As important as it is for the grassroots to be organized and effective in your campaign, it is often equally important to engage with the "grasstops", the community and civic leaders who can bring their whole organizations and networks on board your campaign.
For campaigns to bring ranked choice voting to your elections, identifying local chapters of groups we've worked with around the country is often a good first step. These groups include the League of Women Voters, Represent Us, Common Cause, and others. Developing a diverse coalition that represents as many groups as possible within the community is necessary to demonstrate that your support is as diverse as the community you're looking to bring RCV to. Non-dominant political parties are often interested in collaborating on electoral reform because they understand firsthand the unrepresentative nature of the first-past-the-post single-winner system so much of the country uses. However, gaining support from local elected officials from either of the two major parties can also be instrumental in generating support more broadly in the community, and each group will have their own reasons for getting involved. Broad coalitions within a party can benefit from RCV by ensuring votes aren't split in crowded primaries. On the other hand, independent candidates can be buoyed through RCV by allowing voters to vote their true preferences without fear of helping their least favored candidate by voting for a "spoiler".
Because RCV appeals to such a broad array of groups and interests, it is especially important to target your message to the group that you're speaking to. To this end, check out the Handouts section of the Toolkit for messaging targeted to a number of these different groups.
FairVote has provided our state affiliates and partner organizations with spreadsheet templates of groups that are often valuable to reach out to, and we would be happy to equip new chapters with the same. Local organizations and groups should be added to customize for your specific area as well.
After you have begun to organize a core group of supporters, one of the most essential tasks for your campaign to be successful is community education. Whereas voters are more or less aware of the issues that affect them in most elections, in trying to bring RCV to your elections, there will likely be a large number of voters who have never heard of ranked choice voting or who have a sense that they aren't being represented as well as they could be but aren't aware of what alternatives exist.
How effective you are at educating the electorate about RCV will largely be dependent on how familiar you are with RCV and how well you can communicate that to others in a way that makes sense to them.
Since you're here looking at our Toolkit, you've probably got a pretty good sense of the answer to that question. When we at FairVote talk about ranked choice voting, we are talking about any election in which voters rank their selections and the lowest first-place vote recipient is eliminated with their votes reassigned to the voters' second choices, until all the winners have been selected. RCV can apply to single- or multi-winner races. The single-winner version is sometimes called instant runoff voting (IRV) and the multi-winner version is sometimes called single transferable vote (STV). For the sake of simplicity and not confusing voters, however, we usually simply say "RCV" or "multi- or single-winner RCV".
With the introduction of the Fair Representation Act in Congress this year, it is also worth noting that RCV might be applied to the FRA. This is because the FRA would bring ranked choice voting to all congressional elections. States with only one representative in the House would use single-winner RCV; every other state would use multi-winner RCV, including states with more than five representatives, which would also have independent redistricting commissions determine the boundaries for larger super-districts, from which three to five representatives would each be elected.
These are valuable distinctions to understand, but the easiest way to convey what RCV is and how it works (besides referring to the handouts available in the Toolkit section of the same name) is to tell them it's as easy as 1, 2, 3, and then to demonstrate it in action.
Here is an example video of how to run a mock election, be it to select a community's favorite beer, ice cream, or anything else!
Who you're speaking to about RCV can determine how you frame your discussion. While RCV is great for solving a number of problems with our electoral system, different groups see different benefits for themselves. Instituting RCV won't immediately solve problems that each of these groups see as priorities, but it will open the door for policies that would be politically impossible in our current system by changing the incentives and opening the door to voices that are sometimes excluded in the system we have now.
If you're trying to pass RCV for your elections through a legislative body, such as a city council or state legislature, that means you will necessarily have to convince politicians who currently have power that it is the best decision for them. Sometimes, this can mean that while you would like to institute multi-winner RCV, you have to be prepared to compromise to single-winner, if that's all that they're willing to support. In other instances, this may mean appealing to the elected official's sense of justice and morality, focusing on the inadequacies of the current system and the ways in which RCV will improve them. Other times, this may mean playing up their support in the community: "RCV will make politicians more accountable to the people they serve, but your constituents have elected you every time you've run. You have nothing to fear and everything to gain from supporting this change to our broken system." Another case may call for increased pressure, demonstrating support from their constituents for such a reform. Still another might focus on the great press politicians receive when they enact changes that increase accountability and (small d) democratic engagement. Each case is different, but speaking to politicians in power is very different from speaking to those on the outside looking in.
Politicians in the minority may feel that their support in the community is not adequately reflected in the current governing body, and emphasizing the ways in which RCV can help better reflect the community might be useful here. Emphasizing the ways in which RCV increases the civility of campaigns may also be effective, as doing so would help to eliminate stark "with us or against us" attitudes that polarize the electorate.
Finally, third parties that are rarely taken seriously in many elections are obvious targets to get on board early, as they are some of the biggest victims in the current first-past-the-post plurality system. With them, playing up the removal of the "spoiler" effect and the ability of voters to vote their true preference, rather than being forced to vote for the "lesser of two evils", is often a winning strategy.
Each elected official, in addition to their party loyalties, have a number of factors that go into each vote and decision made. Identifying key people to get on board and what issues are most important to them can often be critical in moving along your legislation. This will include the chair of the committee that legislation may be sent to as well as party stalwarts. As described above, winning strategies will vary from representative to representative, but in general, a good formula to follow is emphasizing how RCV is good for democracy, how it might potentially help them enact their agenda, and how the people they represent already support it.
Election administrators can also play a decisive role in whether or not RCV is ultimately adopted. These are professionals who have often developed close relationships with the elected officials in question, so being able to demonstrate to them the resources that are available to assist with implementation, especially through the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, can be the difference in whether or not they suggest switching to RCV to the legislators. Working through questions and concerns early on in the process, like the ability of the equipment currently in use to run an RCV election or the training necessary to educate the public and other administrators, can build trust and make allies of another group with a significant stake in the functioning of the electoral system.
FairVote, in conjunction with the RCVRC, can help provide election administration and legal assessments to ease concerns and identify obstacles early, so that they can be planned and organized around.
Historically disenfranchised and underrepresented groups, such as people of color and women, are among those most likely to benefit from the adoption of ranked choice voting. There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, RCV results in elections that are more representative of the community. This means votes will not be split among similar candidates, and especially in multi-winner races where the threshold for election is less than 50%, minority groups' representation can be proportional to their size in the community. Another key way these groups benefit is through more civil, issue-focused campaigns. Because women and people of color are disproportionately targeted by personal attacks, this return to civility increases the incentives for women and people of color to run, and once they do, also increases the likelihood that they will win. Emphasizing this can help get groups who are already organized around issues relevant to these communities on board with your campaign, in addition to key individuals who are similarly motivated.
For more information, see the Ranked Choice Voting and Historically Disenfranchised Voters handout in our Handouts section.
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Be sure to check out the Resources section of the Toolkit too, and if you're still unable to find what you're looking for, we're always interested to hear feedback on other tools and resources that activists would find useful, so let us know by filling out this quick survey. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your input!
We have a great legal team that is willing to work with activists and legislators to craft legislation that makes sense for your particular elections, but this page provides a number of different pieces of model legislation based on laws where RCV is currently used for anyone interested.
OpaVote is another great tool for online elections and polls, that allows voters to decide if they want to do either a single-winner or multi-winner RCV election.
Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center - This project of FairVote is a team of seasoned election administrators with experience running ranked choice voting elections. They are an invaluable resource for voters election administrators, policymakers, and candidates who are interested in learning about how RCV can be used in their elections. Be sure to also check out their great webinar series.
CallYourRep - Find out who your representatives in Congress are and how to contact them here.
Verified Voting - Verified Voting is the go-to destination on the web for information about the voting equipment used to run elections across America. While their news and blogs are worth checking in on, probably the most useful page on their site for RCV activists is the equipment verifier map and search page.
Sightline Institute - This is a great resource for groups operating in the Pacific Northwest. Of particular interest may be the Action Plan for Ranked-Choice-Ready Voting Equipment.
While FairVote has made a number of videos explaining how RCV works and advocating for its use, we are by no means the only ones! So, here are some videos from external sources which you may find interesting or helpful in explaining RCV.
Ranked Choice Voting explained in 39 seconds - A very brief explanation of single-winner RCV put together by Ottawa Public Radio.
Libby Explains Ranked Choice Voting - Then-candidate and current Oakland, CA mayor Libby Schaaf explains how RCV works in Oakland elections. Note that some municipalities, like Oakland, limit the number of rankings you can make. For this reason, Libby advocates for strategic voting with 2nd and 3rd choice options. While this is by no means necessary if voters prefer to vote their true preferences, in cases like this with limited rankings, that will increase the likelihood of voters being represented through every round of tabulation.
The Alternative Vote - the Post-it way! - In the UK, ranked choice voting is also known as "the alternative vote". This video was made as part of a campaign to bring RCV to UK elections and, like these favorite videos of ours from Minnesota Public Radio, uses Post-it notes to show how voting works in an RCV election.
Ranked Choice Voting - An ad from the successful Maine RCV initiative campaign in 2016 from the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting.
Ballot Box Update: Maine Ranked Choice Voting Initiative, Question 5 - Our friends at Ballotpedia also created an ad for that campaign, though since they were not advocating for RCV like the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting was, this one is strictly informational.
Ranked Choice Voting Explanation from New Zealand - While the focus is largely on the New Zealand Parliament and how RCV relates to the non-dominant parties there, this nonetheless provides a good explanation of single-winner RCV.
Politics in the Animal Kingdom: Single Transferable Vote - Another of our favorites to use to explain how multi-winner RCV (called STV, or single transferable vote, in this video) works. Note: There are different methods of determining the threshold to win, and this example uses one which we don't advocate for. The video-maker followed this one up with these three videos, the last of which explains the differences between those two methods. The first of these also discusses "exhausted ballots" and what to do with second-ranked votes for already eliminated candidates. The second discusses using multi-winner districts of different sizes, particularly relevant in the context of the Fair Representation Act.
Single transferrable vote explained - A great explanation of multi-member RCV as used in Scottish local elections.
La votación por orden de preferencia explicada - This video, posted to the Facebook page of Spanish-language Vida y Sabor Magazine, explains how RCV works in Spanish leading up to the recent RCV election in Minneapolis.
Be sure to check out the Handouts section of the Toolkit too, and if you're still unable to find what you're looking for, we're always interested to hear feedback on other tools and resources that activists would find useful, so let us know by filling out this quick survey. You can also email us at email@example.com. Thanks for your input!