Frequently Asked Questions

What are your suggestions for holding a successful election?

The RCV123 on-line system is just a tool - like a calculator or a spreadsheet - that individuals or groups can use to run RCV elections or polls.

The accuracy and the usefulness of the results depends on the creation and implementation of each group's own election policies.

Our favorite method for more formal votes is Tier 3, where you send - probably by email - each voter a unique, 40-character link. They just need to click to see their ballot. Each link can only be used to vote with once. See our section on best practices.

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How do I invite others to vote?

RCV123 does not distribute election links or ballots to voters. That is a task the group or person sponsoring the election must do themselves. For remote voting, groups can distribute links by e-mail, social media, Slack, etc. For in-person votes, groups can hand-out 8 to 9-character alpha-numeric codes for voting on phones or laptops, or use our iPhone paper ballot app.

E-Mails from voting services can get caught in spam folders. So RCV123 believes the best way to get election ballots to voters is if they are sent directly from the group or person sponsoring the vote, and from an address that has already been used to communicate successfully.

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What is an Election Administrator (EA)?

An Election Administrator (EA) is just the person who sets up an on-line election. They are also responsible for sending out election links to others, and have the ability to make election management decisions through their Election Dashboard.

As RCV123 is an open platform, we do not screen EAs or any information they claim about themselves or the groups they may represent. They are not employees or affiliated with RCV123 in any way.

We suggest several preferred characteristics and policies for EAs elsewhere in these FAQs. The person running any election for any group is an important role.

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What is the Election Dashboard?

It's a table of rows and columns that lets an Election Administrator (EA) manage participation in an election. There is a row for each vote cast, and the columns are for items such as day and time of a vote, and- if requested - the first few characters of a voter's first name, last name or email address or the last 4 digits of their cell phone number. If any information is to be confirmed, the dashboard indicates if that happened successfully or not for each vote.

The most important column is the one that enables an EA to accept or reject a vote. This ability is why it's crucial for any group holding an election to wisely choose an EA and implement a transparent process so other group members can be comfortable with any decisions about including a vote or not.

Importantly, the dashboard does not show the contents of any individual ballot.

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What is a Provisional Ballot?

The provisional ballot is an option if a voter's information confirmation process is not working or a voter chooses to bypass it. For example, a voter may not be able to find reply code sent by email in their inbox.

A provisional vote is not automatically counted. To address this, a voter who cast a provisional ballot should A) make a note of the time and day of their vote, as well as the information they confirmed or attempted to confirm, and B) contact the person or group holding the election and let them know what happened.

It is very easy for a group's Election Administrator to find a provisional vote in their Election Dashboard and turn the "?" to "Accept." If none of the voter's information was saved or confirmed, their vote will at least have a time and date stamp that the EA can use to accept the vote.

A provisional ballot should never be an RCV123 voter's first choice, as again, it is not automatically counted in an election. The option to cast a provisional ballot will always be available as an option when an election involves confirming voter information by email or text message.

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Can anyone see how I voted?

Under normal conditions, the contents of a specific ballot is not visible to any other participant, and is also not visible on the Election Administrator's dashboard. The dashboard only shows whether a vote was cast, and if requested during set-up, the name of the person who cast the vote or the unique code or link used to cast that vote.

Under normal conditions only the RCV123 programmer and staff can access the contents of a specific ballot. This access would occur through the database that is necessary to run the overall system. RCV123 uses password hashing and HTTPS encryption.

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What is a Member ID?

It's an optional field that the group or person holding an election can use to check whether a given voter should be allowed to participate.

Other than the 8-character limit, RCV123 does not have any required format for Member IDs - other than they cannot include a comma, and capitalization is ignored. Where in Tier 3 elections, RCV123 generates unique links or codes, Member IDs are created by the group or person organizing the vote.

Member IDs will only function properly if a group has distributed them in advance of a vote.

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Why do you just ask for a few characters of name, email and cell phone?

It's a step to partially address user privacy. RCV123 is an open platform, and an election dashboard needs to show some voter information so the self-appointed Election Administrator can make a determination if a given voter is part of the group or not, or possibly voted more than once.

RCV123 does not control who sets up elections, which groups they may claim to represent, or who can view a dashboard if it is shared.

While a person who has first and last names of less than five characters each could enter their entire name, we think limiting the number of spaces is a good way to make our system a much less efficient means for anyone intentionally seeking information. Also, we only ask for data that tends to already be widely available in its complete form for most people. The information visible in an Election Dashboard is not difficult to find through other means.

Also, voters are free to only enter their initials or otherwise limit what they enter, or cast provisional ballots.

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Is RCV123 a secure voting system?

While we use standard HTTPS encryption and password hashing, RCV123 is not a secure voting system that a user can rely on independent of how the election organizer and voters use it.

RCV123 systems are for educational purposes only to teach about ranked-choice voting. Think of our role as the same as a calculator or a spreadsheet. RCV123 systems are just tools for groups to use as they design and operate their own elections under policies and processes they mutually create, agree to, and implement.

RCV123 is not allowed to be used for any election directly for a government office.

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Can I use RCV123 to hold an official election for a government office?

No. Our systems are not designed for that purpose, do not offer the necessary security, and official elections are a violation of our terms and conditions.

Actual voting machines are highly specialized, highly regulated devices that strive to be secure from a variety of electronic, physical and mis-use compromises. States and localities make major investments in selecting, purchasing, certifying, maintaining and using their voting equipment.

RCV123 is an entirely different product. We have no interest - not now, not ever - in serving the market for official elections.

Also, official polling places verify voter identities with a jurisdiction's database of registered voters. RCV123 has no ambition to ever check identities against any official database of any kind. We are for private, community and school groups to run their own internal elections quickly and easily and to their own standards of voter information and participation.

Our online system and paper ballot app are for unofficial elections only. Much of the integrity depends on the ballot distribution, collection and management systems groups and users put in place themselves.

That said, if local political parties - as private organizations - wish to use our systems to decide on internal leaders or even nominate candidates to represent them in future official elections - and they set up the necessary election management systems to get results they can agree to respect - then we hope they find our systems to be useful tools.

We welcome this use in limited situations by local, private political parties because it will educate local leaders about RCV - which is a major part of our mission.

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How does RCV count votes?
Counting MethodSingle WinnerMulti-Winner Counting

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What happens if there is a tie?

RCV123 on-line system handles ties among candidates facing elimination differently than any official RCV systems. (Other than tie-breaking, we use the WIGM RCV system that is the standard counting method.)

We vary from official RCV for tie-breaking because in elections with thousands or hundreds of thousands of voters, ties are very unlikely. But our mission is to make RCV helpful to anyone who wants to make a group decision – including smaller groups with perhaps only 10 voters in a school club or 25 voters in a civic organization. In a small group election with five candidates and 20 voters, for example, there are very likely to be several ties as the rounds progress.

Official RCV uses random chance to settle any ties. We believe it would be unsatisfying for small voting groups to find that much of the outcome was determined by random chance.

So we developed a unique tie-breaking system that calculates a single number for each candidate based on their vote totals and the choice column they are in. The candidate with the highest tie-breaking number wins that tie. If that tie-breaker number winds up in a tie, then RCV123 resorts to random chance.

Each time a candidate is ranked first, that gets a much larger weighting than later ranks. Each first-choice vote is worth 1, and each subsequent choice 2nd-10th is worth 2/3 (.67) of the previous choice on a ballot. Ranks 11-20 are worth .90 of the previous round's weighting. Then all the votes and weighting for each candidate in each column are totaled to determine an overall tie-breaker number. So in our method, for example, three 2nd place votes are worth very slightly more than two 1st place votes. But it would take 37 10th place votes to have the same weight as one 1st place vote. The results page for each election has a table that shows this calculation in detail.

Our tie-breaking method looks at all the choice data from every ballot. This is different from the rounds of counting - which only looks at the data from each round as it is calculated. For example, in actual rounds of counting, a candidate with zero first-choice votes will be eliminated right away, and any 2nd or 5th or 10th place votes they may have may not matter at all. But those 2nd, 5th or 10th place votes will affect that candidate's tie-breaker number - and may help them win a tie against another candidate with zero first place votes.

If two candidates facing elimination have a tie, and have identical tie-breaker numbers, then RCV123 will use random chance to decide an ordered list of all the candidates. That "Tie Breaker of Last Resort" list can be found on the results page of any election.

The use of the mathematical tie breakers will be noted in election results with a blue rectangle over vote totals in that round for the candidates involved. The use of the last-resort, random tie breaker will be noted by the color green.

We believe our tie-breaking system is a good compromise between not weighting the choice column of votes at all, and excessively weighting one choice column vs. another immediately adjacent.

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Where is my email code? - Please check spam folders

Please check spam, promotions or social inbox folders. RCV123 normally sends email confirmations just a few seconds after a request comes in.

It's up to every different email service or program to decide which folder to place confirmation emails from RCV123. As all of these emails are requested by an individual voter and they know to look for and open them right away, we are hoping the email services and programs will learn to place them in primary email folders. Some email services allow users to instruct that specific senders have their emails sent to a certain folder.

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How do I upload voter data for RCV123 to check during voting?

The Election Administrator (EA) must upload a comma separated (CSV) text file. On Mac the standard text editor program is called TextEdit. On Windows, it is called NotePad. The format for uploading is very flexible

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How do I pay for SMS cell phone number confirmations?

Go to the upper right corner of the screen. Click on human icon or set of bars. If you are not signed up or logged in, please do so.

After clicking on the human icon (or on mobile, the bars in the upper right corner and then the human icon,) click on your name. That will bring up your user profile. At the bottom of that page you will see a headline "SMS Purchases."

We recommend purchasing about 10% more credits than you have voters. Some voters might type in the wrong phone number and need to try again. There is a charge for each text sent.

We don't offer any refunds on unused SMS credits. Those dollars will be used to improve our systems or pay our monthly cloud computing costs.

We have to charge users for confirming cell phone numbers via text message. We incur a cost from a texting vendor, and as a non-profit and a free service, we need to pass that cost along.

We think 5 cents each is a great price, as even an election of 1,000 voters would cost only $50. We're very proud to offer text confirmations, and expect them to be a very useful option to some of the groups using the RCV123 system.

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Can I use RCV123 to just hold a standard (plurality) election?

Yes. When setting up an election, look for the selection of the "number of ranks." If that is set to 1, your election will be the same as a simple, standard, plurality election. If you decide to use RCV123 in this way, we recommend that you clearly inform participants about that election policy - as you will be depriving your group of the consensus outcomes that RCV offers.

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What are your Privacy Policies?

Privacy Policies.

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What are your Terms and Conditions?

Terms and Conditions.

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How can I contact RCV123?

Send email to

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