What is Ranked Choice Voting?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 April 2020
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In ranked choice voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference, indicating their first choice, second choice, and so forth. When the ballots are counted, if one candidate takes a majority of the vote, a winner is declared. If no candidates take a majority, the ranked choice ballots are used to hold an instant runoff. The candidate with the least number of votes is withdrawn from the count, and the second choices of those voters are added in. This process is repeated until a winner can be declared.

Ranked choice voting is also known as preferential voting, in a reference to the fact that voters are asked to vote their preferences. Other regions of the world refer to ranked choice as instant runoff voting, due to the miniature runoff election which takes place if no candidate takes a clear majority. Many regions around the world use some form of ranked choice voting in their elections, and some voting activists would like to see it more widely adopted.

There are a number of reasons to choose ranked choice voting. From a purely pragmatic point of view, ranked choice voting saves money, by eliminating costly runoff elections. For voting districts in which runoffs are a frequent problem, ranked choice voting can streamline elections. The elimination of runoffs also relieves tension and stress for voters, by generating instant results.

Voting activists also believe that ranked choice voting frees voters to make choices on the basis of conscience and genuine support for a candidate, rather than fear. For example, a voter might prefer candidate A, but be aware that candidate A might not get very many votes, clearing the way for candidate B to win. The voter might really dislike candidate B, in which case he or she might cast a vote for candidate C, a candidate with more support, in order to prevent candidate B's win. Ranked choice voting would allow the voter to vote for candidate A, but put candidate C in as a second preference.

In the United States, the widespread adoption of ranked choice voting might result in more support of third party candidates, which could open the political system which has traditionally been dominated by the Democratic and Republican parties. In nations which use ranked choice voting, representatives in parliament tend to come from a wide range of political and cultural backgrounds, demonstrating a more balanced representation of the country's citizens.

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