a better way to vote

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)

What is our current voting system?

When we enter the voting booth and select our candidates, we only vote for ONE candidate per position, and whomever received the most votes wins.  This is known as Plurality Voting

What is wrong with plurality voting?

While at first glance plurality voting seems like the logical way to do things, there are two major problems:

  1. Not Always Majority Rule.  If there are two major party candidates and several 3rd party candidates, there exists a possibility that the winner was not selected by at least 50% of the voters.

  2. Spoilers and Splitting.  A 3rd party candidate might be appealing to some percentage of the voters, thus drawing away support from the frontrunner.  This can lead to the less-popular candidate winning the election.  It can also lead to a voter casting their vote for the person they believe has the best chance to win as opposed to the candidate they like best.  Similarly, there can be two or more strong candidates on one side of the spectrum versus a single candidate on the other side.  What often happens in this case is the multiple-candidate side splits up the votes amongst like-minded voters, allowing the other side to easily win the election.


For a simplistic example, suppose Betsy and Bob, who hold similar views on most issues, are both running against John, whose views are quite the opposite.  Let’s say there are 12 voters.

  • Betsy gets 4

  • Bob gets 3

  • John gets 5


In this case, even though 7 people had views similar to Betsy, and Bob and would have accepted either one, John ends up winning the election with only 5 (without a majority of the votes cast).

Plurality voting often leads to attack ads among candidates with very similar views, because they need everyone on that side to vote for them, often by vilifying the other(s). 

Alternative Voting Systems

We will discuss two alternatives to the current plurality voting system, but note that no voting system we have studied is a perfect solution.

Ranked Choice Voting with Instant Runoff

RCV is a method in which voters rank their choices and there are instant, automatic run-off elections among the top vote-getters.

  • Voters choice their 1st choice, 2nd choice, and 3rd choice of candidates.  Whichever candidate has the fewest 1st place votes gets dropped.  Then it checks the 2nd choice for all of the votes that had gone to the now-dropped candidate, and adds those as new 1st choice for those candidates.  It checks once again if more than two candidates receive any 1st place votes.  It continues doing this until there are only two candidates, and one of them will win by receiving more than 50% of that vote total.

See below for a video explainer.


Approval Voting

This system is similar to current voting, except that you can vote for as many candidates as you’d like.  Then the candidate who receives the most votes wins.  It’s that simple.

So if a voter is torn between the main candidate of their party and a 3rd party candidate who they actually like better, they can vote for both of them.

See below for a video explainer.

Reasons for Adopting RCV

While either method would be a major improvement over our current system, Political Reform recommends the adoption of Ranked Choice Voting.  Studies tend to find this as the best of all available voting systems. (see the FairVote comparison chart)

No more spoilers or vote-splitting

  • You no longer have to make tough choices at the voting booth by selecting the less-desired candidate instead of the one you want.  Now you can vote for that 3rd Party candidate you like best as your 1st choice, followed by the main stream or other candidate as your 2nd choice.

Promotes positive campaigns instead of negative campaigns

  • In the current system a candidate needs to get rid of any competing, similar candidates who might draw away crucial votes.  This often leads to negative campaigning that can get quite nasty and turn off the electorate.

  • With RCV or Approval Voting, however, the incentive is to gain votes for yourself as opposed to removing your similar opponents.  This leads to more positive campaign advertising, especially in the primaries.

3rd party candidates gain accurate measure of their public support

  • Now, because of the spoiler effect, many voters will refrain from voting for a 3rd party candidate because they believe their vote will be wasted, and the main candidate of similar positions will end up losing.

  • But with RCV or Approval Voting, voters are free to select that 3rd party candidate without fear of costing the main candidate the election.  This is good because the public will then learn just how much support exists for that 3rd party, and might lead to changes in campaigning and voting in the future.

Allows voters to be more honest and expressive

  • As voters choose all candidates that they could support, there is a higher satisfaction level with the overall process.

A philosophical difference between RCV and Approval Voting

Approval Voting skews towards moderate candidates rather than the extreme, but fewer voters end up with their 1st choice.

In an election with a polarized base plus a 3rd party candidate who is moderate and acceptable to most, Approval Voting means that voters from both ends of the spectrum might vote for their candidate PLUS that acceptable 3rd party candidate.  By getting votes from both sides, that moderate candidate might just win.  With RCV, that 3rd Party candidate would have the fewest 1st choice votes, and would therefore be eliminated in the first runoff round.

An advantage to having that 3rd party moderate win, is that Congress has no excuse to simply block every single thing proposed by that President.  Things might actually get done in a more bi-partisan manner.

Proponents of Ranked Choice Voting, however, will state this as a disadvantage of Approval Voting, because they point out that most voters chose one of the two main party candidates as their first choice, and if the moderate wins, then most voters did not end up with their 1st choice.

Political Reform actually prefers Approval Voting on this argument, since it has a better chance to break the partisan gridlock.  However, Approval Voting is not well suited for our 4th part of the plan, Multi-Candidate Super-Districts.

Who has the power to change our voting system?

How we vote is determined at the state level, so this is a state-by-state battle to convince those in power to change from a Plurality Voting system to a Ranked-Choice Voting system.

You should contact the Secretary of State in your individual state.

Ranked Choice Voting Video


Approval Voting Video