Ranked-choice voting is an electoral system where voters rank candidates in order of preference, instead of voting for just one candidate.
If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and votes are redistributed according to the next preference on each ballot.
This process continues until a candidate has a majority of the remaining votes.
Voters rank as many or as few candidates as they prefer, marking their first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on.
If a voter’s first choice is eliminated, their vote is automatically transferred to their next preferred candidate.
The votes are counted in rounds. In each round, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and votes for that candidate are redistributed to the next preferred choice on those ballots.
This continues until one candidate has more than half of the active votes, or only one candidate remains.
As the Bangor Daily News explains:
Voters can rank as many of the candidates as they wish as their first, second and third choices, and so on. If no candidate receives a majority of all votes cast, the last-place candidate is eliminated from contention. The ballots from voters who ranked that candidate first are re-examined and all of their second-choice votes are added to the first-round totals. This continues until a candidate receives a majority of all votes cast and is declared the winner.
Maine adopted ranked-choice voting in 2016 and the state released a cartoon explaining how it worked:
Ranked-choice voting can affect campaign strategies, encouraging candidates to build broader coalitions and seek second- and third-choice support.
It has the potential to make elections more democratic, responsive, and civil, but its implementation comes with challenges and considerations that vary depending on context and design.
FairVote has a list of jurisdictions that currently use ranked-choice voting.
Use of “Ranked-Choice Voting” in a sentence
- The city council decided to adopt ranked-choice voting for the upcoming mayoral election, hoping it would encourage a more civil campaign and allow voters to express their preferences more fully.
- Critics of ranked-choice voting argue that it can be confusing for voters and difficult to implement, while proponents believe it provides a more democratic and nuanced understanding of the electorate’s wishes.
- After implementing ranked-choice voting in the recent election, the results were delayed due to the complexity of the tabulation process, but many citizens felt that the system allowed for a more accurate reflection of the community’s diverse political views.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.