Frequently Asked Questions
General RCV Questions
What is ranked choice voting?
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a simple upgrade to our current voting system that allows voters to rank multiple candidates in the order of their preference.
How does RCV work?
With RCV, voters cast a single ballot and rank candidates in the order they prefer (first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on). Voters’ first choices are then counted. If a candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, meaning more than 50%, that candidate wins. If no candidate has a majority of first-choice votes, the race is decided by an “instant runoff” (RCV is also known as Instant-Runoff Voting, or IRV). In the instant runoff process, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters who picked that candidate as their first choice will have their vote moved to their second choices automatically. This continues until one candidate has over 50% of the vote and wins the election.
Why is RCV a better way to vote?
Ranked choice voting is a better way to vote than our current winner-take-all system because it:
Promotes majority support
- More than half of all voters will select the winner with one of their choices.
Encourages positive campaigning
- In addition to campaigning for 1st choice votes, candidates also compete to be the 2nd or even 3rd choice of their opponents’ supporters which disincentivizes negative campaigning.
Provides more choice for voters
- RCV encourages more candidates to run because they don’t have to worry about taking away votes from a similar candidate or waiting for “their turn.” This inherently promotes diversity of political viewpoints as well as diversity of backgrounds, beliefs, and demographics
Allows voters to vote for their preferred candidate
- Voters are able to cast their first-choice vote for a candidate they like the most rather than voting against the candidate they oppose the most. In addition, voters can vote for their first-choice candidate without fear of “vote splitting” or throwing away their vote.
- Saves tax dollars
RCV eliminates the need for separate, expensive runoff elections because it is designed to produce a winner who receives a majority of support in a single election.
For example, the 2019 Chicago mayoral runoff election cost taxpayers $3.4 million dollars. This cost would not have been incurred with RCV because the runoff would have occurred instantly in the general election. This is why RCV is sometimes referred to as “instant-runoff voting.”
- Promotes majority support
How many candidates can I rank?
The number of candidates a voter can rank in an RCV election may differ by community based on local laws, the number of candidates running, capabilities of voting equipment and software, and other factors. In general, RCV elections allow voters to rank at least three candidates.
Am I allowed to vote for just one candidate?
Yes. Voters are not required to rank candidates in an RCV election. A voter may select just one candidate as their preferred choice and choose to not rank additional candidates, and this will not harm their first choice’s chances of winning. However, the benefit of ranking candidates is that your ballot will continue to count if your first choice is eliminated.
Does RCV mean you get to vote more than once or that you get more than one vote?
No. Just like our current winner-take-all voting system, you still get only one vote per race with RCV. The difference is, you have the option to rank your choices rather than only selecting your first choice.
Does RCV favor one political party?
No. RCV does not favor any one political party. RCV is a non-partisan voting reform designed to improve freedom and fairness in our elections. RCV has support in both major political parties, among third parties, and among independent voters.
What kind of candidates win RCV elections?
Candidates that do best in RCV elections appeal to a large number of voters in order to gain first-choice support and attract second and even third choices. RCV prevents candidates from winning by only appealing to a small base of voters in a fractured field - a viable and commonly used strategy with our current winner-take-all system.
Is RCV constitutional?
Yes. The U.S. Constitution does not indicate a method or specific voting system for federal, state, and local elections. The following cases have all upheld RCV as constitutional.
- Baber v. Dunlap, 1:18-cv-465 (D.Me. Dec. 13, 2018) (upholding RCV in Maine)
- Dudum v. Arntz, 640 F.3d 1098 (9th Cir. 2011) (upholding RCV in San Francisco)
- McSweeney v. City of Cambridge, 665 N.E.2d 11 (Mass. 1996) (upholding RCV in Cambridge);
- Minn. Voters Alliance v. City of Minneapolis, 766 N.W.2d 683 (Minn. 2009) (upholding RCV in Minneapolis)
- Stephenson v. Ann Arbor Bd. of Comm'rs, No. 75-10166 AW (Mich. Cir. Ct. Cnt'y of Jackson 1975) (Michigan district level court upholding RCV in Ann Arbor)
Questions about RCV in Illinois
Where is ranked choice voting currently used?
RCV is already used in our state capital, Springfield, for overseas and military voters participating in local elections. It hasn't yet been adopted for any other elections in Illinois. Nationally, it's used in Maine and Alaska, as well as several municipalities, including New York City, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and more.
What is the process for adopting RCV in Illinois?
For any level of government to use RCV would require either state legislation or a local referendum. Some local governments would need a change in state law while others could use RCV in local elections (mayor, city or town council, etc.) through a referendum.
Are there any current efforts to implement RCV in Illinois?
SB1785 was introduced in the Illinois State Senate on February 26, 2021, which would implement RCV for the elections of the State House of Representatives, State Senate, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Comptroller, and Treasurer.
A similar bill, HB2416, was introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives on February 17, 2021.
Who supports RCV in Illinois?
As of April 30, 2021, these are the representatives and local officials who support RCV in Illinois:
- Laura Murphy, 28th District
- Mike Simmons, 7th District
- Scott Bennett, 52nd District
- Robert Peters, 13th District
- Ann Gillespie, 27th District
- Laura Fine, 9th District
- Sara Feigenholtz, 6th District
Cristina H. Pacione-Zayas
State House of Representatives:
Jaime Andrade, 40th District
- Matt Martin, 47th Ward
Questions About FairVote Illinois
What is FairVote Illinois?
We are a non-partisan organization, made up of volunteers, that advocates for ranked choice voting in Illinois.
Our mission is to empower Illinois voters to be heard, supported, and represented by improving freedom and fairness in our elections through ranked choice voting.
What does FairVote Illinois do?
Fairvote Illinois is raising awareness of — and support for — RCV in the state, educating voters and politicians about the benefits of RCV and working to implement RCV throughout Illinois for local, state and federal elections.
We do this through the hard work of volunteers who canvas at events, promote RCV online and through social media, contact their representatives, recruit others to join our cause, coordinate with other community groups, and so much more.
How can I support FairVote Illinois?
There are several ways you can get involved with FairVote Illinois, from joining one of our many teams and/or canvassing at events, to making a donation or simply signing up to show your support for RCV in Illinois. Join us for one of our statewide monthly meetings to learn more about the ins and outs of FairVote Illinois and find a way to contribute that works best for you. Click here to view our events calendar and RSVP to our next meeting. All are welcome.
Click here to see all the ways you can help FairVote Illinois.
How is FairVote Illinois funded?
FairVote Illinois is funded entirely by individual donations from supporters of RCV. We are an independent, non-partisan organization and are not funded by any partisan or corporate interests.
Opposition Myths: What Do Other People Say About Ranked Choice Voting?
Despite all the benefits of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) such as increased representation of officials, reduced runoff or primary voting costs, and ensuring an elected official is the one with the largest majority of support, there are still those out there who will try to dissuade voters from enacting RCV.
Opponents tend to use fear tactics or confusion to mislead people into thinking RCV is something it is not. The following are a few examples of common arguments that those opposed to RCV will tend to throw out when trying to detract from the benefits of Ranked Choice Voting.
Myth: Ranked choice voting is confusing for voters
Fact: Ranked choice voting is simple.
The assertion that RCV is confusing is insulting to voters.
When surveyed 92% of Minneapolis voters found RCV to be “simple” and when looking at their 2017 election, which used RCV, there was a 99.96% valid ballot rate! If RCV was as confusing as detractors like to say, this would be a much smaller number.
Here is an example of what a ranked choice ballot could look like.
Myth: Ranked choice voting disadvantages voters
Fact: Ranked Choice Voting empowers voters to vote for the candidate they support most and eliminates low-turnout primary or run-off elections.
When we look at our current voting system, it is rather common for people to say things like “what is the point in voting third party?” or “voting third party is a wasted vote.” Many people who vote are voting for the candidate who they see as the most strategic to vote for, not who they favor or prefer or identify the most with, but who they think has the best chance of winning. This is a result of the ‘first-past-the-post’ system that is common in America where you only need a plurality (more votes than other candidates but less than a 51% majority) to win, rather than a majority of support from voters. Being forced to vote strategically for who you suspect will win, rather than for your true first choice, is a very obvious disadvantage to voters today.
Ranked Choice Voting removes this hurdle experienced by millions of Americans who want to be able to vote for the candidate they prefer, rather than one of two choices who they do not like at all. RCV gives third party candidates and parties with differing viewpoints the chance to share with voters their positions and actually get votes. With RCV there is no need to use a ‘strategic vote’ rather than a ‘preference vote’. RCV also mitigates the issue of low turnout elections such as primaries or run-off elections, which are primarily attended by older, less diverse, and more affluent voters and often lead to candidates that might not represent the greater voting base.
Myth: Ranked choice voting favors the party in power
Fact: Ranked Choice Voting directly combats entrenched party politics by removing the spoiler effect.
With Ranked Choice Voting this argument makes very little sense as almost all components of RCV lead to a healthier voting system that doesn’t favor any party. As previously mentioned, in America we typically use a system called ‘first-past-the-post’ or ‘winner-take-all’. That is to say the first person to get a plurality, no matter how small the lead is and how far from 50% of the vote they are, is the winner. Why should someone who can’t get 51% or more of the vote go on to represent 100% of the voters?
In elections there are typically people who we strongly support, kind of support, oppose, and strongly oppose. As time goes on with ‘first-past-the-post’ elections, past election performance will influence how voters vote. They might strongly support one candidate but know someone who they strongly dislike has a good chance of winning. They might also know their candidate’s party has never won before and doesn’t stand a good chance of beating the person they dislike. So, they are forced to compromise and vote for the candidate who is most likely to beat the person they dislike, or risk wasting their vote. This will always lead to an election system that favors two parties and punishes voters who don’t fully align with either.
Ranked choice voting changes this at the source. RCV allows you to choose several possible choices in order of preference. Candidates are eliminated in rounds, and as candidates are eliminated, the voters who chose that candidate still get a say in who wins by moving their vote to another candidate until only two candidates are left, and the winner is the one with a true majority of votes, ensuring that no vote is wasted.
Check out THIS video by content creator CGP Grey for an easy explanation on how the first-past-the-post voting system works overtime.
Myth: Ranked choice voting costs too much
Fact: Ranked choice voting provides savings while still providing voters the greatest value for their vote.
How much is too much money when it comes to having a fair election? When people who oppose RCV claim it costs too much (usually without evidence) they like to make it seem like we are spending hundreds of dollars per voter to run elections.
When RCV was implemented in Maine in 2018, it cost the state just $83,000 or $0.08 per voter to implement. That isn’t even enough to buy a gumball at your local diner.
In Minnetonka, MN it was estimated that it would have cost $101,400 to run its 2021 election using its current system, however with RCV it would only cost $71,700, a savings of over $29,000!
Ranked Choice Voting allows places that use run-off or preliminary elections to completely replace those with one single election, saving valuable money while giving the voter the biggest impact with a single vote.
Myth: Ranked choice voting lets you vote more than once
Fact: With Ranked Choice Voting you still only get one vote; you just get more say in who gets that vote
Ranked choice voting still only allows everyone to vote just once, whether you rank your choices or simply vote for one person. In many of today’s elections, someone’s vote might not even count if there are more than two options and they select the least popular choice. This forces voters to ‘vote strategically’ rather than for who they support. RCV simply allows a voter to choose how their vote gets cast by ranking in order of preference who they wish to vote for so that they do not have to worry about strategy or wasting their vote.
Links to additional resources
For additional reading, here is a selection of what other groups across the country have put together in support of Ranked Choice Voting and explaining away some of the myths that opposition groups like to put out.