How Ranked-choice Voting Works


Would Ranked-choice Elections Really Be Better?

Would ranked-choice elections reduce Americans' negative view of politics, or at least produce electoral results that voters would be happier with? Those are harder questions to answer. It's worth noting that Jean Quan, the Oakland mayor who was elected in part due to ranked-choice, ended up getting soundly beaten when she ran for re-election four years later [source: East Bay Times].

Critics say that ranked-choice elections have their downsides. For example, they're more time-consuming and complicated to conduct, especially in races where there are a lot of contenders on the ballot. In one 2010 district supervisor race in San Francisco, for example, it took 18 rounds for electoral officials to come up with a winner [source: Hedin]. And some fear that in state such as Maine, where half of the communities count ballots by hand, adding up all those preferences over multiple rounds will lead to more mistakes by election officials [source: Seelye].

Another problem: Since voters have to rank multiple candidates in various races, they sometimes find it confusing and give up without completing the ballot, so that their votes don't count past the first round. Also, many American cities limit the voters' ranking to their top three candidates. So it's possible that if all three candidates on a voter's list are eliminated (a process called ballot exhaustion) then the voter's ballot would be excluded from the final total. A study published in Electoral Studies in 2015 found that in four cities, between 9.6 and 27.1 percent of voters were eliminated due to ballot exhaustion [source: Burnett and Kogan].

In fact, some argue that ranked-choice voting actually results in fewer people participating in elections, instead of more. San Francisco State University political science professor Jason McDaniel, who studied voter participation in five San Francisco mayoral elections, found that it decreased among younger voters, African-Americans and those with lower levels of education after ranked-choice voting was adopted. This confirmed previous research that showed the more complex voting was, the lower the participation level [source: McDaniel].

Supporters of ranked-choice voting find fault with those studies, saying that the sample size isn't big enough to give the true picture of its benefits [source: Grabar]. But the adoption of ranked-choice voting in Maine finally may give us a chance to see how it works on a statewide scale.

Author's Note: How Ranked-choice Voting Works

Though I've covered politics as a magazine reporter, I'd never heard of ranked-choice voting before this assignment, which made it more interesting to me.

Related Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • Bershidsky, Leonid. "The Voting System That Could Rescue U.S. Politics." Bloomberg.com. Oct. 6, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bloom.bg/2jCbAAt
  • Burnett, Craig M. and Kogan, Vladimir. "Ballot (and voter) exhaustion under Instant Runoff Voting: An examination of four ranked-choice elections." Electoral Studies. 2015. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jD3IOX
  • Desilver, Drew. "U.S. voter turnout trails most developed countries." Pew Research Center. Aug. 2, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://pewrsr.ch/2jC4P1t
  • East Bay Times. "Libby Schaaf defeats Jean Quan, wins Oakland mayoral race in landslide." EastBa Times. Nov. 11, 2014. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bayareane.ws/2jD2aVk
  • FairVote. "A Roadmap to Ranked-choice Voting in New York City." FairVote.org. May 2008. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jsttEj
  • FairVote. "Computerized Counting Programs." FairVote.org. (Jan. 16, 2016) http://bit.ly/2jsnhfs
  • FairVote. "Ranked-choice Voting in US Elections." Fairvote.org. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jCgWvI
  • Gehring, Matt. "Instant Runoff Voting." Report for Minnesota House of Representatives. Feb. 2007. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jD8BrA
  • Green, Matthew. "Just In Case You Forgot: How Ranked-Choice Voting Works." KQED. Oct. 28, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jspM1e
  • Greenblatt, Alan. "Maine Becomes First State to Adopt a Whole New Way of Voting." Governing. Nov. 9, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jCZVBd
  • Hedin, Mark. "Ranked-Choice Adds a Wild Card to Mayor's Race." Central City Extra. November 2011. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://www.studycenter.org/test/cce/issues/117/ccx.117-cp3.pdf
  • McDaniel, Jason. "What I've found researching ranked-choice voting: It makes voting harder, lowers participation." Bangor Daily News. Aug. 20, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jD9bWl
  • McGill, Andrew. "Is There a Better Way to Vote, Post-Trump?" Atlantic. April 4, 2016. (Jan, 16, 2017) http://theatln.tc/2jsdsOH
  • Mercer, Marsha. "How ranked-choice voting could make voters more open to third-party candidates." PBS News Hour. Sept. 2, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://to.pbs.org/2jshx5o
  • Orman, Greg. "Why Ranked-Choice Voting Makes Sense." RealClearPolitics.com. Oct. 16, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jCnQ46
  • Owen, Paul. "How does Australia's voting system work?" Guardian. Aug. 14, 2013. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jsyQTS
  • Poundstone, William. "Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About It)." MacMillan. 2008. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jsskfV
  • Scher, Bill. "Nader Elected Bush: Why We Shouldn't Forget." RealClearPolitics. May 31, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2016) http://bit.ly/2jseh9V
  • Seelye, Katharine Q. "Main Adopts Ranked-Choice Voting." New York Times. Dec. 3, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://nyti.ms/2jCi9Dg
  • Swanson, Emily. "AP-NORC Poll finds bare confidence in government, elections." Associated Press. May 28, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://bit.ly/2jC1QGn
  • Wallace, Gregory. "Voter turnout at 20-year low in 2016." CNN. Nov. 30, 2016. (Jan. 16, 2017) http://cnn.it/2jCoGxI

More to Explore