RCV 101: How Multi-Winner Ranked Choice Voting Levels the Playing Field

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An election system that creates barriers for women candidates will not render a reflective democracy. In place of the current system, the U.S. should adopt a fair voting system at all levels of government. According to our research, the best model would be one that makes use of ranked choice voting (RCV) and multi-winner districts (MWDs) to proportionally represent communities across the United States.

Ranked choice voting is an election system in which voters can rank candidates in order of preference. When tabulating the results, each voter's first choice is counted. If a candidate receives a majority of the vote, they win the seat. But if no candidate reaches a majority, then the candidate who received the fewest votes is eliminated. The ballots with the eliminated candidate ranked first are then recounted for their second choice candidate. If no one reaches a majority after the second round, the process continues until a candidate wins with majority support. 

Multi-winner districts refer to a system in which two or more representatives are elected to serve a single district.  Most of the original 13 states used multi-winner districts (MWDs) in Congressional elections. This practice ended in 1842. Today, our best examples come from state legislative chambers, cities, and counties. Of the 7,383 seats available in all state legislatures, 15% (1,082) are elected from districts that have more than one representative. 

In a multi-winner ranked choice system, representatives win seats based on how the voters rank each candidate. On average, the percentage of the population represented by at least one woman increases dramatically with the use of multi-winner districts. Voters in Cambridge, MA have been electing city councilors and school committee members in multi-winner ranked choice elections since 1941. Learn more about the jurisdictions using multi-winner elections with FairVote

Multi-Winner Ranked Choice Voting Case Study: Australia

Australia was the first country in the world to give women (excluding aboriginal women) both the right to vote and to stand in 1902. The House of Representatives has used single winner ranked choice voting since 1918 while the Senate has used multi winner ranked choice voting since 1948.
Women candidates have consistently found more success in the Australian Senate than the Australian House of Representatives since 1943, reflected in the chart below. In 2019 the Australian Senate achieved gender parity and has since surpassed it while the Australian House has yet to reach gender parity.

infogram_0_f35ac68f-235c-4068-b9c8-92203964b8a6Australian Representation - Just Graphhttps://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?hzhtext/javascript

Did you know? 

According to our research, women are better represented by proportional representation than winner-take-all voting. Multi-winner ranked choice voting is one form of proportional representation, and it was used in the United States as early as 1915. To learn more about the history of multi-winner ranked choice voting in the United States, read our 2021 article, "Election Reform and Women’s Representation: Ranked Choice Voting in the U.S."

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