Pros and Cons of Ranked-Choice Voting

Pros of Ranked-Choice Voting

Cons of Ranked Choice Voting

Pros of Ranked-Choice Voting

Pro: Ranked-choice voting is easy and common-sense to use

Voters have one vote each, but when there are more than two candidates for an office, voters have the option to rank candidates in the order they prefer them: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.

Ballots are initially counted for each voter's top choice. If one candidate receives a majority of the first choices, that candidate wins and the counting is no different than a conventional plurality election.

Under RCV, if no candidate receives a majority of first-choices, ballots then get counted in a series of rounds. The candidate who earned the fewest first-choices is eliminated and those ballots count instantly towards their supporter's next choice. The process repeats with one candidate being eliminated in each round, and those choices transferred to that voter's next preference, until a candidate receives a majority and wins.

Ranking captures more information about the true priorities of voters, requires winners to have broad support, and makes elections more open to new candidates and coalitions. RCV may not often change who wins, but it does change how they win.

Ranked-choice ballots are usually in the form of a grid. Candidates are listed in the rows, and each rank is represented by a column.

Try a practice ballot for your favorite ice cream flavor.

See a RCV results graph.

RCV works to form a consensus at any scale larger than a handful of voters. is an online app that will let you use RCV for any group vote for free. It offers easy, informal voting methods, and well as systems for verified elections.

back to top

Pro: RCV requires winners to earn majority support

Conventional party primaries or general elections with large numbers of candidates are often won with just 30-40% of the vote - meaning 60-70% of the voters preferred someone else.

Under RCV, the candidates with the least support are eliminated. Those ballots then shift to the 2nd or next choice and ballots are tallied again. The process continues round by round until one candidate reaches a 50% majority of the vote.

back to top

Pro: Ranked-choice / instant runoff voting helps form a consensus

We find "50%" and "majority" are numerical terms, while "consensus" is more about what people believe and how they work together.

So while winners are required to reach a 50% majority of the active ballots, the higher goal of RCV is that an election produce a broad political consensus that leads to effective governing.

Many supporters of RCV are concerned about high degrees of political polarization. They see RCV as a way to improve the role of smaller and new parties, increase the likelihood of consensus outcomes, and also perhaps create new incentives for broad, practical problem-solving. Ranked-choice may not often change who wins, but it makes important changes in how they win.

back to top

Pro: RCV discourages negative campaigning

Ranked-choice changes the conversation between candidates and voters - and even among candidates themselves.

In conventional elections, candidates have little choice but to promote themselves and criticize others in the hope of being the one candidate to earn a voter's support.

But with ranking, candidates often campaign in ways that emphasize common ground - because if they can't be a voter's first choice, they may also benefit from being their 2nd, 3rd or later choice.

Candidates for mayor in RCV cities sometimes go so far as to campaign and fundraise in groups to emphasize shared values and ask to be the 2nd or 3rd rankings of one another's supporters.

Some candidates report that campaigning is a lot more fun under RCV / instant runoff voting. When they meet a voter who strongly supports someone else, candidates say they enjoy being able to look for areas of agreement and ask to be a 2nd or 3rd choice. Under RCV, voters and candidates both have strong, new incentives to invest in broader dialogues.

Also, under ranked-choice, the tactical benefits of launching a harsh negative attack on an opponent may be greatly reduced. A candidate launching such an attack may wind up not being ranked very highly by the fans of the candidate they are attacking and fail to acquire the majority needed to win.

back to top

Pro: RCV protects coalitions / reduces the "spoiler effect" of similar candidates splitting a set of voters

In elections with more than two candidates, the winner can be decided merely when two or more candidates with similar views compete for the same group of voters, while another set of voters happens to be unified under a single candidate.

This happens frequently in primary elections. Imagine a party with two wings, one with 60% support and one with 40%. But the 60% group has two candidates running in the primary, and the 40% group has just one. In all likelihood, the lone candidate from the 40% wing will win, and the two candidates from the 60% wing might wind up with approximately 30% each.

With ranked-choice, one of the two candidates from the 60% wing would be eliminated as the low vote-getter, and those ballots would shift to 2nd choices. Most of those 2nd choices would likely go to that same wing of the party, and the 60% wing that was initially divided 30% to 30% could become united behind one candidate. So the set of voters representing 60% of the party could wind up with their preferred candidate winning, and the majority would secure the representation it deserved.

back to top

Pro: With ranked-choice, voting for a less-popular candidate is no longer a "wasted" vote

While ranked-choice produces consensus at the ends of the rounds of counting, the early rounds are wide-open for voters to express their true opinions. Voters can confidently rank a seemingly less-popular candidate as their top choice, knowing that their 2nd or 3rd choices will kick-in if necessary.

If a large number of voters feel the same way, the seemingly less-popular candidate might surprisingly place 1st or 2nd in the first round, then wind up winning.

Another way to put it is: RCV empowers voters to vote with their heart - at least in the first round of voting. If that candidate lacks strong initial support, they will be eliminated, and support will roll over - perhaps to a more mainstream candidate who can secure the required majority support. Many supporters of RCV are eager to see how this freedom to vote your heart in the first round might wind up reshaping political parties and governing decisions over time.

We do not have to go back very far in history to see a real-world example of how under conventional elections, the presence of a third party can swing an election in a way it would not have under RCV. This example also shows how a vote for a minor party candidate can lead to electing a candidate who was probably the worst-case-scenario for supporters of that minor party.

In deep-red Kentucky's 2019 race for Governor, a Democrat had a surprising victory over the Republican by just 0.37% of the vote, while a Libertarian candidate earned 1.97%.

One can imagine most of the Libertarians would have listed the Republican as a 2nd choice, so the Republican likely would have won this election if Kentucky had RCV in 2019. Similar examples have happened in Democratic areas due to the presence of Green or progressive party members on the ballot drawing votes away from Democratic candidates.

Under RCV, one does not have to worry as much that voting for your true favorite will result in unintended consequences. If a first choice is eliminated, those ballots will transfer to 2nd choices, and voters can provide support to candidates they feel represent their views.

back to top

Pro: RCV may encourage new candidates to run for office

Running for office has always been difficult, but the need to walk the line of our polarized, partisan era may be especially discouraging to prospective candidates who want to try new ideas or seek compromises on controversial policies.

Without RCV, a citizen who wants to lead in a new direction might just give up before they start. Yet with RCV, that same citizen might decide to jump into a race and see if they can create a unique coalition of 1st, 2nd other choices to form a majority all their own.

Furthermore, under RCV new candidates no longer run the risk of being seen only as "spoiler" candidates who are unlikely to win - yet are sure to takes votes away from more well-known candidates with some overlapping views. With the “spoiler” label removed and the potential for new coalitions to form, candidates with new ideas might find themselves more able to raise campaign funds, win attention in the media or otherwise gain momentum that might be very unlikely without RCV.

There is no way to know exactly how RCV will change who runs or how, but we are eager to see if RCV can prompt positive changes – whether small or large, subtle or obvious - in the areas where it is in use.

back to top

Pro: RCV can help women and people of color win elected office

Formal studies have borne this out, but in the abstract, ranked-choice is an ally of candidates who benefit from a flexible system that can reward new coalitions and strategies. This is particularly true for those who have a core of strong supporters and can also earn high ranks from those who primarily support other candidates.

Also, RCV can help candidates from diverse backgrounds through its ability to keep coalitions together. Earlier on this page, we outlined how as lower candidates are eliminated, groups of similar voters can gain a combined clout that was previously spread between two candidates from the same coalition. This can make it possible for a demographic minority group to field more than one candidate in a race and worry less about how the votes of their coalition might be split and weakened.

back to top

Pro: Ranked-choice eliminates the need for runoff elections

Several states and localities use separate runoff elections as a means to require winners to achieve majority support. In those locations, voters can go to the polls first for a primary election, then a general election in November, and if no candidate reaches 50%, the top two from November compete in a final runoff election a few weeks later. That's three trips to the polls for voters, and the cost of running three elections for taxpayers. The adoption of RCV could save the cost of one or two of those elections.

Also, turnout for runoff elections can be much lower, and so the use of RCV to calculate an "instant runoff" during a November election not only saves the expense of the runoff election, it will often have the highest turnout of the year, and therefore capture the votes of the widest cross-section of voters.

Note: the label "instant-runoff voting" is another widely-used term for "ranked-choice voting."

back to top

Pro: RCV is now a well-established reform

RCV's first modern implementation in the US was in San Francisco in 2004, and today 13.4 million people live in locations where RCV is used in official elections.

It has taken years of hard work by many stakeholders for ranked-choice voting to be implemented by state and local governments and voting machine companies. There are a lot of sincere ideas for political reform, but very few can match the reliability and relative speed of implementation of ranked-choice voting.

back to top

Pro: RCV works at any scale - Try RCV for your next group vote or poll

RCV works to form a consensus at any scale larger than a handful of voters. is an online voting app that will let you use RCV for any group vote or poll for free. It offers easy, informal voting methods, and well as systems for verified elections. is used by thousands of people a week. From large, formal elections held for a non-profit board of directors or a student government office to small, casual ones such as book clubs selecting their next title or extended families finding a location for their next reunion. Just about any group decision you can think of has been made on

back to top

Cons of Ranked-Choice Voting

We're admittedly pro-RCV, so we are offering a response to every con. But please know that the main reason we strongly support RCV is that - to us - it has limited downsides regardless of whether one prefers blue, red, center, or gravitates to major or minor political parties.

Con: RCV is unnecessary because the political system works fine the way it is

We listen to a lot of debates about election reform. Most of the criticisms of RCV we hear are exaggerations or factually incorrect. We suspect the criticisms are motivated by an assumption that RCV might have partisan motivations, and so therefore deserves an energetic take-down by an opposing team. We sincerely find RCV to be a completely non-partisan reform that affects every party and point of view the same.

We love democracy, and believe it's strengthened when elections lead to more consensus and less polarization. We see RCV as neutral tool that calculates that consensus. Nothing more, nothing less.

However, we are realistic and know that there is a set of people who should be against RCV: those who think the American political system is fine the way it is.

We see a lot of unnecessary and unproductive division in our politics today, and our hope is that over the long term, RCV leads to some new alignments and coalitions that can be more effective at governing and solving problems.

If you prefer how the current system steers citizens and politicians towards conflict and polarization that leaves obvious problems unsolved for decades on end, then RCV may not be for you.

back to top

Con: Ranking is too complicated for the average person

When we hear this argument, we think how America is constantly making lists and ranking sports teams, colleges, restaurants, movies and GOATs of all kinds, yet we've never heard anyone report being confused by an ordered list. People at all walks of life obviously manage complex decisions and rank trade-offs all the time. Some might call this thinking.

In our experience, when there is a large presidential primary with 10 candidates, the set of citizens who are planning on voting can nearly all list a few of their favorites in order of preference.

Also, if the ice cream store has run out of our favorite flavor, most of us simply buy our second favorite rather than walk out of the store with nothing. So bringing ranking and second choices to voting makes sense, and is a natural way we already make life decisions - both large and small.

Also, RCV does not require a voter to rank more than a top choice. Making just one rank does reduce the potential impact that voter might have if their top choice is eliminated in an early-round and a 2nd choice would keep their ballot active. But voters are as free to do that as they are to write-in a minor candidate or vote for a 3rd party that is unlikely to win in a plurality election.

In the June 2021 Democratic primary for New York City Mayor: 83% of voters ranked at least two candidates, 73% ranked three or more, and 42% filled-in the maximum of five ranks allowed on the NYC ballot. That was the first RCV election in NYC history. We expect the number of people filling out all five ranks in NYC will increase over time.

back to top

Con: Voters don't have time or interest to research the policies of multiple candidates

Our hunch is that regardless of the election system, not that many voters take the time to deeply research specific policy positions of candidates. Voters are much more likely to decide based on their broad set of values, preferences for change vs. stability, as well as opinions they hear from within their communities. So we believe Americans who are interested enough to vote are entirely capable of judging their levels of support and ranking several candidates.

After all, even in a conventional election system, a voter may arrive at their final decision by ranking their personal pros and cons of various candidates. So adopting ballots with ranks may just be a way to capture the process that many voters go through already.

Also, RCV does not require anyone to rank more than a first choice. It's better for the election and the voter to rank at least several choices, but that freedom lies with the voter.

Many big-city mayor primaries or general elections will have 10-15 candidates. We are sympathetic to voters who might only feel the need to rank five or six of the most active and experienced candidates.

back to top

Con: RCV supposedly violates the principal of "one person one vote"

We find this to be an inaccurate description of RCV. We hear it in situations when an RCV opponent is listing as many negative arguments as possible and hoping something sticks.

Under RCV, each voter has one vote. That vote is attached only to the highest remaining rank at a time on their ballot. That single vote transfers from one candidate to another when a voter's highest remaining choice is eliminated. In many countries, a version of ranked-choice voting is called "single transferrable vote." That label makes it very clear citizens get only one vote each.

The "one vote" objection has been raised in anti-RCV lawsuits in several states and found by courts to lack merit.

back to top

Con: Ranked-choice helps third parties at the expense of major parties
Con: Ranked-choice may help perpetuate the two-party system

We find it very interesting that these two polar-opposite arguments both get made quite often. To us, both are true, and that is an excellent sign that RCV must be doing something right.

Let's take them one at a time.

RCV helps small parties because under RCV, voters have much less need to check the polls to see if a vote for a small party is a "wasted" vote, and might even wind up helping the candidate that voter likes the least.

This is because with RCV, voters know that if their minor-party favorite can't win, and gets eliminated in the rounds of counting, their vote will transfer to their 2nd, 3rd or 4th choice. We like to think that under RCV, a lot of voters will feel free to vote with their hearts in the first round, and perhaps more with their head in the second.

We are eager to watch locations with RCV to see if, over time, RCV helps minor and independent parties get more attention and possibly compete more evenly with major parties. It's our hope that RCV will lead to a more open and adaptable political competition that better reflects the views of voters.

RCV helps large parties because in the end, a majority of votes is required for victory. If a major party represents a broad coalition of views, it's logical that party's candidates will wind up reaching 50% support and winning.

However, in a situation where each major party is too extreme for the true majority, it might be that a centrist candidate could do well enough in the early rounds that a major party candidate is eliminated before them. Then a centrist candidate might be the 2nd choice of enough of those major-party voters to reach a majority.

So it might be that in the short term, RCV does help major parties. Yet it may also be that in the long run, minor parties get a chance to grow into broad-based coalitions themselves or influence the major parties to adopt the policy position of the ideas that started with minor parties.

back to top

Con: Critics say the candidate with the "most votes" does not always win

We disagree strongly and consider that a false argument. It is true to say that under RCV, the candidate with the most votes in the first round does not always win. Leaving out the crucial "first round" wording is the same as insisting that a football team "with the most points" deserves to win - when it's still only the end of the first quarter. RCV is counted in a series of rounds, and any description that omits that fact is inaccurate.

Under ranked-choice / instant-runoff voting, the candidate who is ahead at the end of the first round wins about 95% of the time, but they do not win all the time. If a candidate who is 2nd or (very rarely) 3rd at the end of the first round winds up winning, that is RCV doing the important work of forming a majority consensus.

If one is concerned about the "most votes" winning, let's recall that in a regular plurality election with a lot of candidates, the winner might only have 30% of the vote, with the other candidates getting 25%, 20%, 15% and 10%, for a total of 70%. So "the most votes" went to candidates who did not win, and the majority is left without representation.

This “most votes did not win” criticism of RCV seems to have arisen about the time RCV was first used in a race for Congress – Maine’s 2nd District in 2018. In the first round, the incumbent Republican led with 46.3 % and the Democrat followed close behind with 45.6%. Two other candidates split about 8% of the vote. When those two lower candidates were eliminated and their supporter’s votes transferred to their later ranks, the leader switched to the Democrat, who then won 50.6 % to 49.4%.

Naturally, this was a difficult introduction for the incumbent and his party. Of course, the candidate with the most votes did win and a majority consensus was formed. This time it simply happened not to form around the candidate with the most votes in the first round.

In the total of all official RCV elections in the US in the past few decades, only about 5% of the time did a candidate who was not in the lead at the end of the 1st round of counting wind up winning. That number is about 10% when one includes only highly competitive RCV races that had three or more candidates and there was no majority in the first round.

Only in half of one percent of all RCV races, and just 1% of competitive RCV races did a candidate win who was not in 1st or 2nd place in the first round become the final winner. Once again, RCV may not often change who wins, but it changes how they win in important ways.

back to top

Con: RCV has a problem with inactive/exhausted ballots

These occur when all the choices a voter has marked are eventually eliminated and their ballot has no active choices remaining. We should note that because of inactive ballots, the "majority" 50% in RCV can refer to a majority of active ballots, and not necessarily to 50% of the original number of ballots cast.

We believe RCV works best when voters complete all of the available ranks and communicate their complete priorities. But voting is voluntary in the United States, and if a voter does not wish to make a rank, they are free not to - even if that means denying themselves a chance to make their 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. choice known and possibly decisive in an election.

A voter may not wish to provide any support to candidates whose policies they strongly object to - even when that support is only relevant once all of the candidates that voter prefers have been eliminated from the race. We disagree that an inactive ballot is necessarily a sign of a voter not understanding how to take advantage of all that RCV has to offer. If a local election is about an incumbent doing a good job or not, some voters might be highly invested in the incumbent, and may not have strong feelings about any of the challengers.

It's important to explain that not all RCV jurisdictions allow a rank for every candidate. Minneapolis, for example, often has 15 or more candidates for Mayor, but allows voters to mark only their 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices. New York City's Democratic mayoral primary in 2021 had 13 candidates but allowed voters only five ranks. So RCV elections in these locations are certain to have a higher proportion of inactive ballots compared to places where the RCV ballot offers a rank for every candidate. They are completely valid uses of RCV.

It's true that an exhausted ballot no longer makes a difference in an election. However, it's important to point out that the same thing also happens quite often in conventional elections.

Imagine three candidates in a conventional election. The polls closed at 7 pm and the first precincts reporting show the race with two candidates at 40% each, and one candidate is way behind with just 20%. The counting for the 40%/40% race will probably go long into the night, and the voters who supported the 20% candidate realize their candidate can't win, and their vote is not relevant to the ongoing count. Whatever criticisms there are for exhausted or inactive RCV ballots, they should also be applied to the situation for conventional plurality elections we just described. In any race with more than two candidates, not every vote can matter right up until the finish line.

The percentage of inactive/exhausted ballots can depend on how close an election is, how many candidates compete, and how many rounds of counting are necessary for a winner to be declared. An example of a high number of inactive ballots is the very large and competitive 2014 race for Oakland, CA Mayor. Sixteen candidates competed, and it took all 16 possible rounds of counting for a winner to be declared. After three rounds of counting, the number of inactive ballots was 0.01%. By round 10, they reached about 1%, 7% in round 14, 14% in round 15, and then jumped to 24% in the final and 16th round of counting. It was in that final round the incumbent mayor was eliminated, and it seems only half of her large number of (possibly overconfident) supporters filled in a 2nd rank.

A more typical situation is the 2018 election for Mayor of San Francisco. Nine candidates competed, and the election required nine rounds of counting. After five rounds of counting, just 0.01% of ballots had become inactive/exhausted. After the final and 9th round, 8.4 % of the original set of ballots had run out of ranks.

On one hand, exhausted, inactive ballots are a fact of RCV. But there is another side to that coin: RCV is designed to be as inclusive as possible in how it incorporates 2nd, 3rd, 4th choices, etc. of the supporters of defeated candidates. On balance, we believe RCV is much, much, more inclusive of voter preferences than it is exclusive.

back to top

Con: Ranked-choice / instant-runoff voting costs money for states and local governments to implement

This "con" is absolutely, 100% true. To change to RCV, voting machines will often require new software, and Boards of Elections often invest in voter education campaigns - which usually consist of advertising, in-person training and events for the media.

However, most jurisdictions already have communications departments and budgets for educating citizens about parks and recreation programs, recycling and trash pick-up, school registrations, and other activities and policies. Also, governments spend money on software upgrades under normal circumstances quite often.

So the tasks involved in RCV education and implementation are not especially burdensome or new. One can argue there is no better expenditure for a government to make than to improve the ability of its elections to best reflect the views of its citizens.

Most major voting machine companies in the US already offer RCV capability. Also, there is a great deal of cooperation between existing and new RCV locations for practical advice on implementation and voter education.

RCV can save money in locations when it eliminates the need to hold run-off elections.

back to top

Con: Ranked-choice means party X can vote in the primary of party Y

Please don't confuse ranked-choice voting with a non-partisan, open primary. They are separate reform ideas that should be judged independently. We believe the benefits of RCV are strong in any situation - partisan primaries, open primaries, or in general elections. Also, D.I.Y RCV works great for small groups. Click here to try it yourself.

However, RCV and open primaries are linked in some minds because in 2020, Alaska passed a referendum changing to a system of non-partisan, open primaries where Democrats, Republicans, Independents and all other candidates compete. The top four candidates in the open Alaska primary then run in the fall general election using ranked- choice voting.

In 2022, other states may consider similar referendums for open primaries and then top-four ranked-choice voting in the fall general election.

It's important to keep the pros and cons of open primaries separate from RCV itself. They can be used together in a combined system, or not. A few states - such as California and Washington - have open, non-partisan primaries, but their general election is a top-two election under standard plurality rules. RCV is not used.

Many voters want their political party to be able to control the candidates it sends to a general election. Florida had a 2020 referendum to change to open primaries, and it was defeated 57% to 43%.

Our hope is that ranked-choice voting can be seen as a non-partisan reform that can help any election - whether primary or general - reach a consensus result. So once again, we urge citizens to judge the pros and cons of open primaries and the pros and cons of ranked-choice voting separately.

back to top

Con: RCV is better than the current system, but theoretically there are even better systems out there

We've studied this carefully, recognize the strong opinions some hold, yet we respectfully disagree for the following three reasons:

1) Even if other systems hypothetically were a bit better than RCV, few or none of those novel methods currently can run on official voting machines in most any given state.

It is likely to take a substantial investment of dollars and years to get software for any untried election method programmed, accepted by voting machine companies and certified by election regulators in even one new city or state. If the delay itself were not persuasive, that long process could be brought to a halt at many possible veto points by any number of stakeholders and political leaders with the power to decide they just don't see the political or business reward as worth the risk of participating in something new.

RCV123 hopes that democracy reformers can rally behind RCV - a voting reform that has been successfully used by voters in jurisdictions that total 13 million people. We also hope the pursuit of the hypothetical won't slow the progress of a proven and practical political reform.

2) Many of these new voting ideas involve assigning a rating or giving citizens the option for multiple votes. In our view, such methods have a fundamental problem: expressing support for a candidate who is not your 1st choice might wind up harming that same 1st pick.

This means elections conducted under such systems may lead the most engaged voters to maximize support for their top pick, and minimize support for all others - and therefore avoid using the very features that supposedly make these hypothetical reforms better than RCV.

Technically, this is called the "later no-harm criterion" and systems that lack that feature tend to give rise to what is called "strategic voting" or "bullet voting." With RCV, a rank given to a 2nd choice, etc., is not relevant until a top choice has been eliminated from the race. So RCV is more straightforward for voters, and is subject to less gaming by campaigns and their fiercest supporters.

3) Ranking has a clarity and practicality that these other hypothetically better methods do not. A ranking of 1st, 2nd and 3rd means the same thing to everyone. Whether a candidate is preferred by a little or a lot, ranking requires each voter to put their preferences into a logical order that is universally understood.

Yet with systems that assign a rating, average or allow for multiple votes, a set of people who had identical views across a field of candidates might make many different assumptions as to what rating a given candidate deserved or how many candidates deserved a vote at all.

Voting methods with wide flexibility might make it hard for a community to accept a close election as fair when there were no clear, objective standards as to what level of support should translate into how a ballot is marked.

Or to put it this way, if a voter thinks their top choice is "pretty good", does that merit the highest possible spot in one of these hypothetical systems? Or does "pretty good" get a middle indication? How will voters feel if there is a close election, and afterward, realize it came down to the semantics of how a few of them interpreted a set of vague instructions or defined a word such as "support." Whereas ranking is a clear, simple and universally understood criteria.

We understand some have strong feelings about hypothetical future voting systems. But at some point, there is no mathematical, scientific or political proof that can choose a perfect voting system for society. We at RCV123 have a set of assumptions about human behavior and politics, and conclude that of all voting reforms, RCV both functions the best, is the most practical to implement, and the most likely to steer society toward more consensus and less polarization.

But other citizens with different assumptions may come to different conclusions. We respect that. But to us it's also very important that democracy reformers work together towards achievable goals. Once again, we hope the pursuit of the hypothetical won't slow the progress of a proven and practical political reform.

back to top

Con: RCV is a plan by one party for political gain

If RCV truly helped one party or another, we would probably already see RCV used extensively in states that are completely in that party's control. But the only states that have so far decided to use RCV statewide are two with long histories of independent politics - Maine and Alaska.

While RCV found its first homes in progressive cities such as Minneapolis and San Francisco, RCV is now finding widespread local use in deep-red Utah. It's important to note that a statewide RCV referendum in deep-blue Massachusetts was defeated in 2020, and that RCV has recently been used in several statewide Republican primaries and conventions. Also, RCV has been vetoed twice in recent years by two different Democratic California governors. In blue Washington State, RCV has been stuck in the legislature for years. Furthermore, state legislatures in two red southern states recently clarified that RCV could not be used in those states.

We are at a loss to find a single attribute that ties together all the locations and situations where RCV has been adopted. However, we can point with confidence to the main reason why the efforts of grassroots RCV activists get blocked: RCV threatens to evolve the existing political system, and those in power usually prefer the system of elections to remain unchanged.

Like many reforms, RCV must start with a group of local activists who take that first step to seriously advocate and organize for RCV. Once that happens, RCV gets caught up in the local political environment. Was there a recent election that brought out a flaw in the plurality system and created momentum for reform? What other elections are on the ballot or on the minds of a legislature at the time? Who turned out to vote? Was the RCV group well-funded enough to communicate its message? Do local political leaders - regardless of party - believe RCV will help or hurt their own political futures?

The fact that there is no easy formula to explain RCV adoption only shows what a great reform it is. It can pass in referendums with overwhelming support, or sometimes just squeak through, or like all systemic change, it also can get bogged down by local incumbents who came to power under plurality voting and don't want to risk any change.

Some Republicans nationwide formed a negative opinion of RCV due to a 2018 Congressional election in Maine. It was the first time RCV had ever been used for a race for Congress. In the first round, the Republican was ahead of the Democrat by 46.4% to 45.6%, with two independent candidates earning 5.7% and 2.4%. After the two independents were eliminated as low vote-getters, the Democrat wound up winning 50.6% to 49.4%.

This Maine situation was the first time many had even heard of RCV, and it's natural that the party that went from thinking they would win to suffering a close loss might not form an ideal first impression of RCV in the heat of the moment. We expect citizens who were concerned about RCV in this instance will come around to appreciating RCV as soon as an election lead changes from Democrat to Republican under RCV in Maine or Alaska, where it is used for congressional elections.

We believe that in the next few years the most confident leaders in all parties will see there is nothing to fear - and much to be gained - from a change to RCV.

back to top