Types of RCV for multi-seat bodies

For multi-seat bodies, FairVote advocates for proportional ranked choice voting and educates about other ranked choice options.

 

FairVote believes proportional ranked choice voting (PRCV) is the gold standard for electing multi-seat bodies in the United States, including city councils, state legislatures, and Congress. We also believe that ranked choice voting ballots in general give more power to voters and address problems with our elections, and we support them becoming the norm in our elections.  Our current strategy is centered on two complementary goals: winning proportional RCV for electing Congress and bringing RCV to elections to other offices across the 50 states.

FairVote’s work interacts with elections for multi-seat bodies in several ways: 

  1. We support PRCV as the best means of ensuring fair representation for all.
  2. We study the impact of other election methods and provide resources on the costs and benefits of other methods, including winner-take-all forms of RCV.
  3. We generally advise and assist people in jurisdictions or organizations who seek to implement any form of ranked voting, including both PRCV and winner-take-all RCV methods. 

Below is an explanation of FairVote’s policy position and the principles that guide its approach to multi-seat RCV.

 

Proportional RCV is the gold standard for multi-seat legislative bodies

When electing a multi-winner body such as a city council, a key question is which voices will be represented. Election methods fall into two categories: 

Winner-take-all election methods allow the majority faction to control all seats. A common type of winner-take-all voting in the U.S. is plurality block voting which is often criticized for denying representation to communities outside of the majority. Winner-take-all methods prioritize the voice of the majority rather than elevating an inclusive mix of voices. There are a number of different types of winner-take-all methods, some of which incorporate ranked choice voting.  

Proportional election methods result in like-minded voters being able to elect their preferred candidates in proportion to their voting strength. FairVote believes that proportionality is important to provide a representative government and that it results in better governance. We have a particular reform focus on bringing proportional voting to congressional elections, where proportional RCV (otherwise known as the single transferable vote) is particularly appropriate given how it avoids “split votes” from smaller partners and given our political traditions like accommodating a diversity of views within major parties, nominating candidates in primaries, and expecting legislators to make their own choices about sponsoring and voting on legislation.

 

Ranked choice ballots have advantages even without proportionality  

We acknowledge that there will be situations where local leaders, local organizers, and/or voters may prefer a winner-take-all method to a proportional method. In those cases, we believe that winner-take-all RCV is usually preferable to non-ranked-choice methods because of the intrinsic merits of ranked ballots even without the benefit of proportionality. 

Additionally, we believe that building familiarity with ranked ballots among voters, candidates, parties, and administrators can help pave the way for achieving our key goal of passing PRCV at the federal level. 

For these reasons, there may be benefits to local partners adopting a winner-take-all form of RCV. FairVote recognizes these benefits at the same time we recognize that winner-take-all RCV carries with it the flaws of all winner-take-all formats, particularly its potential to shut out voices of minority factions and deny representation to communities of color when in the minority. We always seek to promote PRCV’s many benefits, always suggest that policymakers adopt PRCV, and never suggest that policymakers adopt winner-take-all RCV in jurisdictions where its winner-take-all nature is likely to create a cause of action under the Voting Rights Act.

 

Options for RCV in jurisdictions with winner-take-all elections

The section below outlines various forms of winner-take-all RCV and one semi-proportional method of RCV (“bottoms-up”). Two of these methods—sequential RCV and RCV with numbered posts—are currently in use in the United States and the others have been used historically. We believe these methods can make elections better for voters than non-RCV winner-take-all systems. At the same time, we always prefer Proportional RCV (PRCV) over any winner-take-all form of RCV, and we will not support efforts to adopt winner-take-all RCV in circumstances where their winner-take-all nature is likely to create a cause of action under the Voting Rights Act.

To assist in our policy of advocating for PRCV and educating about other multi-winner RCV methods, we’ve included a “Quick Comparison Guide” below that highlights the key advantages and disadvantages of each system.

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Sequential RCV (SRCV) elects multiple winners by running a series of single-winner RCV tabulations based on the same set of ranked ballots. The ballot is just like a traditional RCV ballot. The first RCV tabulation identifies one winner in the same way as a traditional single-winner RCV election. Each subsequent seat is filled by an RCV tabulation which treats the already-elected candidate(s) as “eliminated candidate(s)” so ballots for those candidates count for the voters’ next choice in the first round. In this way, a voter can have their ballot count at full value for the first winner, the second winner, and so on. This can allow a majority faction to control 100% of the seats, as is the case with any winner-take-all voting method.

RCV with numbered posts occurs when the same group of voters elects multiple winners in entirely separate (but overlapping) RCV elections. For example, one RCV election would elect city council seat #1 by a citywide vote from the set of candidates running for seat #1. A separate RCV election would elect city council seat #2 by a citywide vote from the set of candidates running for seat #2. When the same group of voters elects multiple winners, each in a winner-take-all contest, it enables a majority faction to win every seat, as is the case with any winner-take-all method. 

Bottoms-up RCV elects multiple winners by running a traditional RCV tally and eliminating last-place candidates until the number of remaining candidates equals the number of seats to be elected. It differs from proportional RCV because it does not transfer surplus votes away from winning candidates. Bottoms-up RCV is sometimes referred to as a “semi-proportional” system: it is not a winner-take-all system, but it also may not lead to fully proportional outcomes. One unique risk of bottoms-up RCV compared to other forms of RCV is that a minority of voters may be able to control a majority of seats.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, FairVote supports both proportionality and ranked ballots. For single-winner elections, there is no tension: We unequivocally support RCV on its merits. 

For multi-winner elections, there can be tension between RCV and proportionality. We always advocate for proportional RCV over winner-take-all RCV methods as the preferred approach. We also believe that ranked ballots have intrinsic merits and support their consideration when jurisdictions are unwilling to embrace proportionality. Because that choice may come with certain hazards, however, we offer resources and tools for policymakers and advocates to weigh each system’s pro’s and con’s.

 

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