Ranked Choice Voting
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a voting system that allows voters to rank many candidates on a ballot in order of preference rather than choosing one candidate.
Ranked Choice Voting is a simple change to the way we vote.
In most elections today, you pick one candidate. With Ranked Choice Voting, you can rank multiple candidates in the order you prefer them — 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice, and so on. If your 1st choice can’t win, your vote instantly counts toward your backup choice.
This solves a very big problem in our elections: the problem of “spoiler candidates” and vote-splitting. Today if you support an underdog candidate, you risk “throwing your vote away” on someone who can't win. Or if you support one of the front-runners, you hope that a similar candidate won’t split their vote and hurt their chances. Too often our system pressures voters to choose the “lesser of two evils,” discourages candidates from running, and elects candidates without a majority of support.
With RCV, your vote stays in play until one candidate wins with a majority — more than 50% — of the vote. If used for Massachusetts elections, Ranked Choice Voting would bring more voices and choices into our political process and ensure outcomes that more accurately reflect the will of the voters.
BENEFITS OF RANKED CHOICE VOTING
Ensures Majority Support
by eliminating the “spoiler effect” to elect a candidate who appeals to a broad base of voters. In our current system, candidates can win election despite being the last choice of most voters. Ranked Choice Voting guarantees the election of majority winners, whose support extends beyond a narrow base. RCV uses a series of “instant runoffs” to find a winner with a majority of votes in the final round (see our How RCV is Counted page for more details).
Minimizes Strategic Voting
by encouraging voters to choose their true favorite, without settling for the “lesser of two evils.” In our current system, if your favorite candidate is unlikely to win, what should you do? Some urge you to cast a “safe” vote for one of the front-runners, to avoid electing the one you like least. Others urge you to stick to your principles and vote for your favorite candidate — period. Voters shouldn’t be forced to take sides in this lose-lose dilemma. Ranked Choice Voting lets more voters vote for candidates they support, not just against the ones they oppose.
Promotes Diverse Candidates
by encouraging more candidates to run for office without fear of vote-splitting. In our current system, many candidates are pressured to drop out, shamed as “spoilers,” and excluded from public debates. Ranked Choice Voting welcomes all candidates into the race, and sometimes simply deciding to run is all that stands in the way of winning. A study of four Bay Area cities with Ranked Choice Voting found women and people of color are running and winning office more often than they are in cities without RCV. In multi-winner contests, especially, Ranked Choice Voting truly represents all perspectives, each in proportion to its voter support.
Curbs Negative Campaigning
by rewarding candidates who reach beyond their base to find common ground with more voters. Voters are tired of toxic campaign rhetoric and mud-slinging. With Ranked Choice Voting, candidates do best when they reach out positively to as many voters as possible, including those supporting their opponents. While candidates must still differentiate themselves to earn 1st-choice support, a campaign that emphasizes negative attacks over positive ideas may lose the crucial 2nd and 3rd choices needed to win. Comprehensive polling that compared cities with RCV to those without found that voters in RCV cities experienced campaign messages that were more positive and constructive.
Strengthens Party Unity
by tempering intra-party tensions during contested primaries and choosing nominees with a mandate from party voters. By allowing voters to rank primary candidates in order of preference, Ranked Choice Voting helps consolidate rather than divide competing party factions. The incentive to positively campaign under RCV means fewer rifts between party members after a hotly contested primary, and the requirement that winners demonstrate a majority of support under RCV will give nominees the mandate they need to rally party members behind them. It helps every party put their best foot forward heading into the general election.
Saves Money and Boosts Turnout
by eliminating the need for costly, low-turnout preliminary elections for city office. Most cities in Massachusetts use a runoff-like process in which a “preliminary” election narrows down the field of candidates before the general election. Preliminary elections are expensive to run, draw anemic turnout, still allow vote-splitting, and are a hassle for all involved. Ranked Choice Voting conducts runoffs instantly from a single ballot, so preliminary elections become unnecessary, saving cities money and concentrating voter participation into a single higher-turnout election.
Want to get an overview of RCV and our movement? We recommend inviting someone from our speaker's bureau for a short presentation and Q&A. Click here to request an RCV presentation.