General RCV Questions
You can also learn more about RCV and how it works on our About Ranked Choice Voting page!
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 choice automatically. This continues until a 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 favorite candidate
- Voters are able to cast their first-choice vote for a candidate they truly support 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 over others?
No. RCV does not favor any one political party. RCV is a nonpartisan 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 not just first-choice votes, but also second- and even third-choice votes. 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);
- Minnesota 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)