Ranked Choice Voting

In November 2011, the city of Portland elected our Mayor using Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). You’re probably wondering what on earth this ‘Ranked Choice Voting’ thing is all about, right?

No need to worry. Most people are in the same boat, as 2011 was the first time we saw anything like it in Maine. But rest assured, it has happened elsewhere, including the entire country of Australia and city of San Francisco. So we’re not creating something totally new here.

Ranked Choice Voting ensures that whoever wins is elected with the support of the MAJORITY.  In a “normal” election (plurality), a small bunch of fringe voters can throw an election against the wishes of the majority.

When two people are running, in the “normal” system, the winner is automatically supported by the majority of voters.  When three people run, it’s possible for someone to be elected with only 34% of the vote (66% of the public voting against them). With 4 people running, in the “normal ” system, it’s possible to win with 26% of the vote: 74% of people voting against them.

A mayoral election in Portland, because we are such a progressive town, will NEVER have less than three people running.

So, how does it work? RCV is still 1 ballot, 1 vote but it allows you to rank the candidates in order of preference from 1-15 with the first ranked candidate your number one pick. You no longer have to select just one! You get to pick your favorite, and then your second favorite, and yup, even your third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth favorites and so on. This way if your number 1 candidate doesn’t win (or even your number 9 candidate!), your vote will still be counted based on your ranked choice order.

Imagine walking into an ice cream shop. You have your heart set on ordering cookies and cream ice cream because it’s your absolute favorite. Moose-tracks is your second favorite so you have a back up plan in case they’re out of cookies and cream. And you absolutely can’t stand the taste of strawberry ice cream.

With our current voting system, if this ice cream shop does not have cookies and cream, you’re stuck with strawberry. Sorry, but that’s the way it works. Sucks, doesn’t it?

With RCV, this ice cream shop doesn’t carry cookies and cream anymore because, unfortunately, not enough people like it to make it worth-while for them to continue serving. But, not to worry! You can still get moose-tracks and enjoy that tasty refreshing ice cream treat that you were so excited about!

How does that translate into voting for candidates? It’s easy. If you’re 1st ranked candidate comes in last place, that candidate will get eliminated from the race, and your vote will go to your 2nd ranked candidate. This will repeat until one of the candidates receives a majority of the votes.


How does it work?

1.     You mark your ballot by identifying candidates in order of preference:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 AND 15, with 1 as your top ranked candidate and number 15 as your least favorite.

2.     Ballots are counted. It takes a majority (at least 50% of the votes cast, plus 1) to win. If one candidate achieves a majority, he/she wins.

3.     If there is not a majority then the candidate(s) with the fewest votes will be eliminated. All ballots cast for the eliminated candidate(s) will now have their vote reassigned to their number 2 ranked candidate.

4.     Ballots are re-counted. If one candidate achieves a majority, he/she wins.

5. If no candidate has a majority the person with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters’ ballots are reassigned to their highest ranked candidate (that has not already been eliminated).

6.     The elimination & reassignment process repeats until one candidate has a majority of votes. This can take many, many rounds of counting depending on how many people are running in the race.

Things to remember:

  • In the Portland Mayoral race with 15 candidates, you want to rank as many candidates as possible (1-15!), all the way through. That way, in case your number 1 candidate doesn’t achieve a majority, your ballot will still be cast for one of the remaining candidates. If you don’t list more than one candidate and that person is eliminated you are choosing not to vote.
  • RCV is still just one person, one ballot, one vote- in ranked choice order.
  • Ranked Choice Voting eliminates the need for costly primaries or runoff elections.
  • Ranked Choice Voting is relatively immune from common electoral issues:

o “I really like Candidate A but I don’t think they can win so I’m going to vote for Candidate C because Candidate B scares me.”

o   “I think Candidates, A, B, and C would all do a good job.”

Ranked Choice Voting can lead to more civil elections: Candidate A would be wise not to alienate the supporters of Candidates B, C, and D.  Why? Because Candidate A wants those voters to list him/her as #2 on their ballots, in case second-place votes need to be reassigned.

Are you still feeling unsure about how this process actually works? Are you nervous about a new way of voting in November? Not to worry – The League is here to help! Email us at YoungVoters207@Gmail.Com

Still can’t picture it? Check out this Fair Vote flowchart, and the rest of the website where they explain RCV in even more detail w/ cool videos (although they call it Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV).