Today, most RCV elections are conducted using optical scan voting systems. The latest machines from the largest vendors (ES&S, Dominion and Hart Intercivic) include options to allow jurisdictions to administer RCV elections. Following is a short summary of options for administering RCV elections.
If counting is typically performed on a precinct-by-precinct basis, the simplest option for administering an RCV election is to use existing precinct machines to count first choice tallies; then, in the event that this precinct count does not determine the outcome of all RCV races, collect ballots or ballot data in a central location and then centrally tabulate the round-by-round results.
Using Major Manufacturer Voting Systems Configured for RCV
Under this option, the voting system itself both reads and internally tabulates RCV ballots. Provided ballots can be easily centralized. This is generally the easiest option, when it is available, though it requires the counting rules to precisely conform to the rules used by the system.
Three manufacturers have voting systems currently certified by the Election Assistance Commission to conduct RCV elections: Dominion, Hart Intercivic and Unisyn.
This method is used by cities in the California Bay Area and the city of Santa Fe, NM with Dominion voting systems. ES&S has created a modification to their system for the June, 2018 statewide RCV primary elections in Maine.
Export Ballot Data and Tabulate Using Commercial, Off-The-Shelf or Third Party Software
Many jurisdictions now use digital scanning machines that can capture the image of each ballot and export data from that process into a format that can be read by a commercial, off-the-shelf software spreadsheet such as Excel or private vendor software.
Prior to June, 2018, this approach has been adopted as the default way of conducting RCV elections using the latest systems from ES&S. Any ES&S system using the DS-200 tabulators can be modified to convert ballot data into a common spreadsheet format and export it onto a portable USB drive, and ES&S systems beginning with EVS 188.8.131.52 have this capability built into the system.
This method is used by Minneapolis (MN) and Portland (ME).
Work with a Private Vendor
Jurisdictions able to incorporate the use of voting systems that do not have federal and/or state certification can work with an independent vendor in a central count. Such a jurisdiction would run its elections just as usual, with a sensible ranked choice voting ballot design, and count first choices as usual on its current machines. If the outcome were not determined by the first choice count, ballots would then be collected centrally, where the independent vendor would use its system to scan the ballots and generate the RCV results.
This method was used in Portland (ME) in 2011 and by Takoma Park (MD) in 2007, both with the private vendor TrueBallot, who also conducts RCV tabulations in Cambridge (MA).