What is Ranked Choice Voting?

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a method of holding elections in which voters are given the option to rank the candidates in order of preference instead of having to choose just one. RCV works because it:

  • Means that candidates that are more broadly popular tend to win
  • Encourages more positive, issue-focused campaigns
  • Promotes proportional representation more reflective of the community, increasing the odds of candidates of color and women being elected
  • Provides more choices for voters
  • Minimizes strategic voting

How does Ranked Choice Voting work?

RCV allows voters to rank candidates in a race in their order of preference instead of choosing just one:  their favorite candidate first, their second-favorite candidate second, and so on. 

In a single-winner race, like for mayor, a candidate needs more than 50% of the votes to win.  If a candidate is the first choice of more than half the voters, that candidate wins the election.  But if no candidates gets the majority of the vote, then back-up choices come into play. The candidate with the least amount of support is eliminated, the second choice votes for that eliminated candidate are redistributed, and this process continues until a candidate wins more than half of the votes.   

The process is similar for a multi-winner race, but the threshold for winning a seat is less than 50% because more seats are up for election.  For example, if a city is electing two people to their city council, each candidate must earn more than 33.3% of the votes to win a seat. 

The Mechanics of Ranked Choice Voting

  • Voters rank their candidates on a ballot

  • Votes are counted for each candidate

  • If no candidate gets enough votes to win, the lowest vote getter is eliminated

  • Any votes for an eliminated candidate are redistributed to their next ranked-choice

  • Votes are counted for the remaining candidates

  • Eliminations and redistributions continue until a winner is found

Learn more about Ranked Choice Voting from the Alameda League of Women Voters