By Amanda Zoch and Diana Jordan
All eyes are on New York City as it works to complete counting the largest ranked-choice voting (RCV) election in U.S. history.
Over 800,000 voters turned out for the city’s June 22 Democratic primary, casting ballots for mayor and other local offices. Although the election was not without its hiccups—some 135,000 “dummy” ballots were inadvertently included in the initial vote tally, forcing the tabulations to be re-run and further delaying the results—it represents another step in the adoption of RCV.
RCV offers an alternative to plurality voting, the most common voting system in the U.S.
In plurality voting, also known as first-past-the-post or winner-take-all voting, the candidate that receives the most votes, a plurality, wins. The winner doesn’t necessarily receive a majority.
RCV, however, allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference, and the candidate with a majority of votes (50% +1) wins. If no candidate receives 50% or more in the first round, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated and the votes are counted again. Thus, if a voter’s number-one choice was the eliminated candidate, the vote is given to that voter’s second-choice candidate. The elimination process is repeated until one candidate tops 50%.
Opponents say the more complex process confuses voters, but proponents, such as Rob Richie, the president and CEO of FairVote, argue that it gives voters the opportunity—if they want—to vote strategically. Of course, whether NYC voters ranked candidates strategically or with their hearts will be difficult to parse once the race is called.
NYC isn’t the only jurisdiction making RCV news. More and more states are allowing RCV in local elections or opting to use it for statewide elections. This summer, Colorado passed HB 1071, which will allow RCV in local elections starting in 2023. Last year, Alaskans passed Ballot Measure 2, which adopted RCV for statewide offices. Voters in the Last Frontier will first use the new method in the 2022 general election.
You can find more RCV legislation on NCSL’s state election legislation database, or visit NCSL’s RCV webpage for details on how RCV works and its implementation across the states.
Amanda Zoch is an NCSL policy specialist and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow. Diana Jordan is an intern for NCSL.