Instructions and Best Practices

Best Practices

RCV123 is much like a calculator, spreadsheet or toolbox for you to make and run your own ranked-choice poll, election or group decision.

As with all those things, the output is only as good as the inputs, and only as trustworthy as the integrity of the people running and using it.

RCV123 lets you choose the amount of voter verification. There can be a trade- off between ease and speed of use and the level of voter verification achieved. That balance is up to you.

Our best practices summary is very short:

We realize the length of our instructions. We've discovered there are a surprising number of voting situations and election attributes groups want to have, and so we have added those options and combinations over time. The good news is once you get to know RCV123, you can use our self-serve election system for free, forever.

We recommend every election or poll with something important at stake be managed by one (or more) trustworthy member selected by the group holding the vote. We call this role the Election Administrator. This trusted member should agree on election policies in advance, share Election Dashboard information with other leaders when necessary, and make decisions to allow or disallow any specific provisional or regular ballots.

The vast majority of polls and elections created on RCV123 are Open Links. That method is most appropriate for small, high-trust groups, or casual polls or decisions. Open Link is the easiest to set-up, and a voter need only click a link to start ranking their ballot.

Open Links and other tiers use our sophisticated duplicate-vote deterrence system in the background. Our duplicate deterrence system can be turned off during set-up if the election will be conducted on shared devices or is for voter education.

For more formal situations, the Tier 3 link method is one of our favorites. It does not require any reply codes to reach voter in-boxes. When using Tier 3 links, a voter also just clicks on the link to vote. While an Open Link URL is common to all voters, the Tier 3 link adds a unique set of 40 randomized characters and can only be used to vote once. It's the same general technique as paid verified voting services that might charge $1/vote. does not send out ballot emails. Many would just get stuck in spam folders - as do most emails from unfamiliar addresses. The best way for a group to reach its members is through an e-mail account both sender and receiver have used successfully before.

To send voters a Tier 3 link, the person running the election will have to A) cut and paste a unique link from RCV123 into a separate email to each voter - which should be fairly easy for a small election. Or B) for larger elections, set up an "e-mail merge" in your email or contact management program to automate that process. The RCV123 system can generate an unlimited number of Tier 3 links. Here's a link to Microsoft's mail merge instructions.

For in-person verified voting, we recommend either our paper ballot iPhone app, or the Tier 3 method where RCV123 generates a list of 8-9 character alpha-numeric codes that you can hand out. The app scans RCV ballots with the iPhone camera. It's very fast to print, scan and tabulate an in-person election.

To use Tier 3 codes for an in-person election, we suggest copying the codes for that election (500 max) from RCV123, and pasting them into a document. Add a few spaces between each code, print the list onto a few sheets of paper, cut them up, and hand each voter a section with one unique, one-time use code to use from their phone or laptop. The codes must be entered by each voter before they can see their ballot.

We are contacted frequently by users who ask for election process design additions or changes, and we have made quite a few of them. We hope you can find a way that works for your poll or election. If not, please let us know.

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We designed this site so the necessary instructions are shown as you proceed through the election set-up process. So we encourage you to make a few test elections and learn along the way.

The information below is intended to broaden those instructions.

Election Dashboard

Tiers 0-4 provide an Election Dashboard. Open Link does not. Each account has a top-level dashboard to view all of the Tier 0-4 elections set-up under that account. One can then click through to a dashboard to see a table with a record of every vote in a specific election along with the verification steps completed and the information requested. A voter's ballot and ranks cannot be viewed in the dashboard.

The purpose of an Election Dashboard is to let the Election Administrator double-check and manage who votes. Properly cast votes cast start with a checkmark. Provisional ballots will have a "?" next to them. A provisional ballot can be marked with an "X" to show it was inspected and found to be a duplicate or cast by an unauthorized person. When an election is closed, only votes marked with a checkmark will count in the final total.

For example, if an election asks for unconfirmed names, and a name listed is not part of the voting group, that vote can be given an "X" or "?" and it will not count in the final tally once the election is closed.

A dashboard is also where you can manually close the voting for elections, as well as delete past elections.

Information in top-level Account Dashboard:

Information in an Election-Specific Dashboard:

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Tier 0

This is almost identical to Open Link, but enables a dashboard. We were contacted by groups that needed to use Open Link during a large meeting, but could not be sure exactly when the voting would need to take place. They wanted to be able to close the ballot exactly when voting was over. So neither a pre-set closing time, nor just leaving it open worked for them. We also were contacted by people who wanted to track all their elections in the dashboard, including Open Links.

The Tier 0 dashboard only has a few functions. It allows one to have a running count of the votes that have come in. It also allows an election to be closed manually as well as deleted. While records of individual votes can be seen in the dashboard, there is no way to disallow any votes under Tier 0. This is because there is no active verification step that voters take that would need to be checked. However, there is an option for the RCV123 system for deterring duplicate votes to be turned on in the background.

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Tier 1

This tier asks voters to provide some voluntary, unconfirmed information about themselves. The Election Administrator can then look at the dashboard and remove any votes that are not associated with names that are meant to be included in the vote.

Of course, a system like this only makes sense for a high-trust group. It's a great way for the Election Administrator to know who has voted, and then can remind members who have not voted yet to do so.

When setting up this Tier, the administrator can choose to incorporate our system that deters duplicate votes. The major reason not to choose to use this background system is if the vote will be taken on shared devices, such as might be necessary in a classroom or meeting.

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Tier 2

Tier 2 has a lot of advantages over Tier 1 for groups that are not entirely high- trust, or for electing offices or polling opinions valued enough that participants might consider breaking your rules.

The ideal Tier 2 situation is a group that already has member's email addresses. The administrator creates a ballot and then emails the link to the group's mailing list.

Each participant needs to input an email address and then receive a reply code at that address. That reply code opens up the ballot to vote. The first five characters of the email address that received the reply code are saved in the dashboard.

The administrator can look at the dashboard and compare the email address characters from each vote to group records. Tier 2 demonstrates that a vote came from someone who is in control of that known email address. Tier 2 is a way to confirm email addresses without having to take the step to format and export a list of addresses into a CSV file and upload them to RCV123.

Of course, a voter could make a mistake and input a different email address from the one in the group records. An administrator can always contact voters where the email address in the dashboard is not the one in group records, and resolve the discrepancy.

If the discrepancy can't be resolved in a conversation, the administrator can mark an "X" next to that vote, and it will not be included in the final vote tally.

This is far from a foolproof system, and it must be administered by a trustworthy group member. That said, Tier 2 makes a good balance between ease of set up, ease of use and provides meaningful information about each voter and their relationship to a known email account.

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Tier 3

Tier 3 is our favorite because it verifies specific information, and all the approvals occur in the browser and no reply codes need to be received by email.

The verification data can take several forms: a unique browser link that can only be voted once. An 8-9 digit code generated by RCV123 with a limit of 500 voters. Or a unique Member ID created by the group and uploaded to RCV123.

Because the unique links are 40 characters long, they would be very difficult for a person to type in, and are designed to be distributed by email. The 8-9 digit codes are designed to be handed out on slips of paper to voters in a school or an in-person meeting. They can easily be typed into the browser field.

In case a person can't get the typing right for a generated code or a Member IDs, Tier 3 offers provisional ballots that can be voted without a verification being completed. The Election Administrator will need to check their dashboard to allow or disallow provisional ballots that might have been cast. voters casting provisional ballots should contact the election administrator and let them know the exact time and date of their vote.

If using unique links, as explained elsewhere, the administrator will need to either copy and paste unique election links into individual emails, or for a large election, will need to create a mail merge in their own email or contact management software to automate this process. We realize this is a bit of work, but mass emails from a voting service are likely to wind up in spam folders. Emails from addresses that are already in use for two-way communication between a group and its members will have the most successful distribution.

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Tier 4

Tier 4 is also a little work to set up, but should also be sufficiently secure for most group decisions or elections. It automatically leads voters to prove they are in control of an email address that is already known by the group holding the vote.

Email addresses must be uploaded in CSV format to RCV123. You send voters a generic link to the elections, and they must input their email address, receive a reply code at that address, and then input that code into the browser.

RCV123 does not harvest, use or sell these uploaded email addresses in any way. We are a non-profit for RCV education. All full or partial email addresses in storage are deleted when an election is deleted in the dashboard.

If a reply code sent from goes to a spam folder, at least it will arrive right after a voter asked for it, and hopefully, they will think to look in all of their various mailboxes at that moment.

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Voter Anonymity

In Tiers 1-4, Election Administrators have a choice of whether to ask voters to input the first five characters of their first and last names or not. Names are not confirmed in any way, and a voter can input anything or leave the fields blank. For lower tiers, asking a voter to input their name may help the process of double-checking voter information on the dashboard.

However, when Tier 3 links, codes or Member IDs are used, there may not be a benefit for the Election Administrator to so easily view a name that corresponds to a cast vote - which can of course be accepted or rejected in the dashboard. As with all the choices setting up an election on RCV123, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, and each of the choices has a trade-off.

Also, to avoid the possibility that an RCV123 election might be used to harvest information, only the first five characters of first names, last names and email addresses, and the last four digits of a cell phone number are visible to the administrator in the dashboard.

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Set-Up Test Elections

We strongly recommend Election Administrators set-up small test elections and obtain a few votes on whatever types of devices and in whatever type of situation the vote will be conducted - in person or remote, on phones, on shared computers, on individual laptops, or on a K-12 school or college email system. RCV123 is a free service, so there's no reason not to set up as many test elections as you want and give them a try.

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Multi-Winner vs. Single-Winner Ranked-Choice Voting

In the US, not everyone is used to the concept of a multi-winner, ranked election. Think of it as selecting five candidates for equal seats on a non- profit's Board of Directors out of perhaps 10 contenders. This is different from having, for example, one seat on the board for each of five regions, and having a separate ranked-choice election for each specific regional board seat. There are a lot of subtle differences to consider. Follow this LINK to two classic videos explaining single-winner and multi-winner ranked choice.

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Ballot Set Up

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