How RCV Is Counted

The Ballots

For voters, ranked choice voting is literally as easy as 1, 2, 3. Just rank your choices in order of preference. This sample ballot shows a voter who preferred Alice first, Carol second, and Bob third.



Counting Single-Winner Races

RCV ballots are counted in a series of rounds, as shown in the following flowchart and video. First, all the first choices are counted, and if any candidate has a majority (more than half) the votes, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the last place candidate (with the fewest number of votes) is continually eliminated until a candidate reaches a majority.


RCV Flowchart



Counting Multi-Winner Races

The single-winner race tabulation deals with the wasted vote "spoiler effect" problem by allowing ballots to count toward back-up choices when their first choice is defeated. In multi-winner races, it also handles a second, complimentary wasted vote problem: the "shoe-in effect." The shoe-in effect is the concern that a candidate will have too many votes — more than needed to win — and may take votes away from other deserving candidates. The RCV count deals with wasted votes for shoe-in candidates by transferring ballots, or fractions of ballots, from elected candidates to back-up choices that have yet to be either elected or defeated. The following video illustrates the process.



For further reading, FairVote offers another multi-winner RCV example.