Nearly every state uses a similar system for casting and counting votes—voters select one candidate per race on a ballot and the candidate that receives the most votes wins. This is known as plurality voting or winner-take-all. Plurality voting isn’t the only option, though.
In November 2016, the state of Maine became the first in the nation to enact a different system for most elections, one called Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV). The citizens’ initiative called for RCV to be used in U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor, state senator and state representative races. For many, the question soon became: What is RCV?
What is RCV?
In a ranked-choice voting system, voters rank all the candidates for a given office by their preference—first choice, second choice, etc. The votes are first tallied based on the first choice on every ballot. When ranked-choice is used to elect one candidate (instead of multiple candidates in a multi-member district), if no single candidate wins a first-round majority of the votes, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and another round of vote tallying commences. If a voter's first choice is eliminated, then the vote goes to the second choice and so on. Eventually one candidate receives a majority (over 50%) and wins the election. The result is similar to traditional runoff elections, but with just one trip to the polls. This is also known as “instant-runoff voting.”
To win, a candidate must have a majority of votes cast. If 100 votes are cast, the winner needs 51. If a candidate wins 51 votes in the first round, she or he wins the election. If none of the candidates secure a majority, the election goes to step two.