Frequently Asked Questions About RCV

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What is RCV?

Ranked Choice Voting is a system in which voters rank candidates by preference, and those preferences are used to elect the winner(s) of the election. Each round, the top ranked (first choice) votes are tallied. If no candidate receives a majority, 50+% of the vote, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated and any first choice votes they received are redistributed. This continues until a candidate receives a majority of the vote.  If there are several winners in the election (such as electing several members of a school board), this repeats until all seats are filled. 

For more information, please visit: FairVote or Rank The Vote  

Why does RepresentWomen support Ranked Choice Voting?

Although women make up 51% of the US population, they are critically underrepresented in political office. The mission of RepresentWomen is to strengthen our democracy by advancing reforms that break down barriers to ensure more women can run, win, serve, and lead. 

Ranked Choice Voting is one of RepresentWomen's core reforms. Research, both our own and by other organizations and academics, has indicated that RCV leads to more diverse representation by eliminating the “spoiler effect”, encouraging more civil campaigns, and more.

To read more about how RCV helps women, please look through our research page or our “women winning” page.

What’s wrong with the status quo/Winner-Take-All?

Our current voting system is a “Winner-Take-All” system. The Winner-Take-All system only requires a candidate to win a plurality of votes rather than a majority. This means a candidate can win with only 25% of the vote as long as no other candidate receives more than 25%.The Winner-Take-All system also discourages more than two candidates (usually from the two main parties), leading to less diversity in platforms, less moderate platforms, and greater partisanship divide. Candidates who do run as a third party are informally called “spoilers”. 

Winner-Take-All systems discourage women in several ways. Political parties are less likely to support a woman running over a male candidate and may even actively discourage women from running. This system also creates more expensive and negative campaigns. Both aspects can act as a stronger deterrent to women rather than men. Since women often shoulder the majority of housework and child/elderly care, they may feel the burdens of campaigning more heavily.

Shouldn’t candidates be elected by merit, not gender?

Absolutely. RepresentWomen does not believe that women should be elected just because they are women. The issue of the current system is that many highly qualified women, especially women of color, are not running in the first place due to structural barriers. RepresentWomen supports RCV because it creates a more welcoming environment for these candidates to run alongside other qualified candidates. 

The best candidate should always win. Ranked Choice Voting does not change that, nor do we want it to. Instead, we want to see more diversity in the field of qualified candidates. 

Why is diverse representation important?

America is an extremely diverse country in terms of race, ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs. By having diverse representation, more communities have a “seat” at the political “table”. Through their representatives, these communities can have their concerns, issues, ideas, and desires heard - leading to more inclusive, innovative, and just legislation. In addition, diverse representatives often act as role models for those in their communities and can help bridge the gap between government and people who may feel left behind/left out of politics.

To learn more about why diversity is important, please visit InclusiveAmerica

It seems like a stretch to say RCV definitely helps outcomes for women. There are so many factors. How can you be sure RCV is what’s producing better outcomes for women?

It’s true that there are many factors! In fact, there isn’t much in the real world that operates in isolation. The goal of RepresentWomen is to strive to understand those factors, and how they work together to improve our current system to help reach gender parity. While there is no definitive way to prove that RCV causes better outcomes for women, it is a type of electoral reform that has correlated with positive results for women, people of color, and women of color. Even if the women-positive results from RCV elections were bolstered by other factors, there is strong evidence that Ranked Choice Voting seems to benefit women candidates in comparison to Winner Take All systems.

Does RCV hurt minorities?

FairVote released a report in 2021 that examined the ways in which communities of color benefit from Ranked Choice Voting. Their report concluded that candidates of color benefited from the round-by-round counting process and that voters of color tended to rank more candidates. There was no indication RCV hurts minorities.

Read The Report

Is RCV too complicated for voters?

A critical measurement of a voting system is how well voters understand, engage, and feel politically empowered by it. Recent surveys have suggested that RCV is not only easy to use for voters, but that it is well-liked. A survey of voters from the 2021 NYC municipal primaries revealed that 95% of voters found their ballot simple to complete, 78% of New Yorkers said they understood Ranked Choice Voting extremely or very well, and 77% would want to use it again. Another 2021 voter survey based in Utah found similar results with 81% of respondents reporting that they found RCV "very or somewhat easy" to use. Around 90% of those voters also found the instructions “very or somewhat clear”. 

For more information on voter opinions on RCV, please visit: FairVote 

Is RCV used anywhere else in the world? Or is this a new "American" thing?

Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant-runoff Voting, Alternative Vote or Preferential Voting) has been used internationally since the early 1900s and was initially used in America in 1915. It is not a modern or untested voting system.

Australia has used RCV to elect its federal legislators since 1918 (lower house) and 1949 (upper house). Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Ontario, Canada, Ireland, and India are among some of the other international jurisdictions that use Ranked Choice Voting.

In America, Ranked Choice Voting was first adopted by the city of Ashtabula, Ohio in 1915. By the early 1940s,23 cities across six different states had implemented RCV, including NYC, NY and Sacramento, CA. Although most cities repealed RCV by the 1960s, Cambridge, MA has continued to use Ranked Choice Voting uninterrupted since 1941. 

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For more information on the history of Ranked Choice Voting, please visit: RCV Resource Center

Where is RCV used in America today?

Below is a map detailing where RCV is currently used. "Awaiting Implementation" means that while RCV is an approved voting system in that jurisdiction, it has yet to be used. 

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For more information on where Ranked Choice Voting is used, please visit: FairVote