Frequently Asked Questions
What is Ranked Choice Voting?
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a simple but powerful change to the way we vote that empowers voters to rank candidates in order of preference and ensures winners with a majority or the highest support possible in a single, decisive and cost-effective election.
How does Ranked Choice Voting work?
Voters can rank as many or as few candidates as they like from their favorite to least favorite — first choice, second choice, and so on. In a single-seat election, if a candidate receives a majority (50% + 1) of first-choice rankings, that candidate wins. If not, another round of counting occurs. The candidate with the fewest votes is defeated, and these ballots now count for those voters’ second choices. This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority and wins, or in multi-seat elections, until candidates have reached the winning threshold and all seats are filled. Your vote counts for your second choice only if your first choice is eliminated. Sometimes called “instant runoff voting,” RCV is the most cost-effective and efficient way to ensure winners with the broadest support possible and eliminate spoiler and strategic voting dynamics.
Why is Ranked Choice Voting needed right now?
The polarization and negativity of our politics has reached a crisis point. Americans are not only disagreeing with each other, but fearing and demonizing the other side. On January 6, this extreme polarization erupted into political violence.
Extremists are present in most democracies but they are less likely to wield the kind of political power they have in the U.S. under systems that promote majority rule and multiple parties like RCV. Our current election system not only allows, but encourages candidates to run and win with a small base of voters. Since candidates are not required to earn broad voter support, many leaders take office solely representing their base and ignoring the demands of most Americans. This outdated voting system fuels negative and dishonest campaigning, creates “spoiler” candidates, allows winners opposed by a majority of voters, and empowers factions on the political fringe. Once in office, this hyperpartisanship disrupts collaboration and blocks action on the issues that matter most to voters, resulting in gridlock and government dysfunction.
RCV is a simple change to the ballot but one that holds the powerful potential to break through polarization and gridlock. RCV:
- Gives voters more choice and more power
- Requires candidates to build broad majority coalitions
- Encourages positive campaigning and civility
- Solves the spoiler problem
- Promotes more inclusive, diverse and representative elections
- Is more efficient and cost effective
How did Ranked Choice Voting get started in Minnesota?
In 2004, the League of Women Voters Minnesota conducted an exhaustive, two-year study of voting systems and reached a consensus that endorsed Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) as an option for local and state elections in Minnesota. See the summary position on LWV-MN website.
In 2006, FairVote Minnesota, with the support of the League of Women Voters Minneapolis, former Minneapolis Mayor Don Frazer and dozens of volunteers, led a grassroots campaign to adopt RCV in Minneapolis that voters approved by a 2-to-1 margin.
What has been the experience of Minnesota cities that use Ranked Choice Voting?
More than 545,000 Ranked Choice Voting ballots have been cast in Minnesota since 2009 when Minneapolis began using RCV. It has been used in St. Paul since 2011 and in St. Louis Park since 2019. By all measures, RCV has been a resounding success in all three cities:
- Voter participation has increased;
- More candidates are running and offering voters greater diversity of background and perspective;
- Voters overwhelmingly say that RCV is easy to use and that they like it better than the old system.
Voters in Bloomington and Minnetonka adopted RCV by ballot measure in 2020, and will begin using it for mayoral and council elections in 2021, along with Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Louis Park. For details and statistics on RCV elections in Minnesota cities, see the Minnesota Dashboard.
What is the plan for adopting RCV in Minnesota?
A growing number of Minnesota communities would like to adopt RCV for local elections, but only charter cities with odd year elections – a small percentage of cities in Minnesota – are able to do so. We must pass the local options measure in the state legislature to allow all local jurisdictions to adopt RCV if they wish.
Momentum is building to adopt RCV statewide, and Minnesota has the opportunity to become the first state to adopt RCV for statewide elections through legislative action.
Rep. Steve Elkins and Sen. Kent Eken, along with a growing number of RCV supporters in the state legislature, are working to pass statewide and local options RCV legislation. The bill would require the use of RCV in primary and general elections for state constitutional offices, legislative offices, congressional offices and the office of president. The bill would also allow cities, townships, counties and school boards in Minnesota to adopt RCV by local ordinance if they choose.
Passing statewide legislation will require everyone to get involved, make their voices heard and take action.
Where is Ranked Choice Voting used?
20 million Americans live in cities and states where RCV is widely used. RCV has been adopted for state and federal elections in Alaska, and Maine uses RCV in statewide primary and federal elections, including for president. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Springfield, IL use RCV for military and overseas voters.
More than two dozen cities in 17 states use Ranked Choice Voting for local elections. They range from large cities like New York and San Francisco to small cities like Vineyard, Utah and Eastpointe, Michigan. Five cities in Minnesota — St. Paul, Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, and Bloomington — will use RCV for their mayoral and council races in 2021.
Democratic and Republican parties routinely use RCV in leadership elections and nominating contests, but 2020 saw both parties make great strides with RCV. Five states ranked their vote in presidential primaries or caucuses in 2020, and the Indiana Republican party and the Utah Democratic and Republican parties used RCV for their virtual conventions. The Minnesota DFL also used RCV for endorsements at its virtual state convention.
RCV is used in democracies around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Malta, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and in the city of London, England. Elected officials in India, Nepal and Pakistan use the multi-winner form of RCV to select their national senates and in India, its president.
Does Ranked Choice Voting increase voter turnout?
Yes. Ranked Choice Voting automatically increases voter participation in local elections by eliminating the low-turnout primary and allowing voters to consider the full slate of candidates in the general election when turnout is higher and more representative of the community.
The Minnesota experience demonstrates that RCV fosters more competitive races and has helped boost turnout. When St. Louis Park first used RCV in 2019, voter turnout increased by nearly 50% in the November general election, from 4,436 to 6,619 voters citywide, over 2015, the last similar election with the Mayor and both at-large council seats on the ballot. In 2017, turnout in Minneapolis was 43%, the highest in 20 years and a more than 32% increase over the relatively high turnout in 2013. A similar trend was seen in St. Paul and in other cities across the country with the implementation of RCV.
Is Ranked Choice Voting constitutional?
Yes. In 2009, the Minnesota State Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Ranked Choice Voting is constitutional: “Every voter has the same opportunity to rank candidates when she casts her ballot, and in each round every voter’s vote carries the same value.” Minnesota Voters Alliance v. FairVote Minnesota, June 11, 2009. Federal courts have also ruled that RCV meets all tests under the U.S. Constitution.
Does Ranked Choice Voting allow voters to vote more than once?
No. Voters have the power to rank candidates, but their vote only counts for one candidate in the final round of counting.
As the Minnesota Supreme Court made clear: Every voter gets an equal vote. In each round of counting, your ballot counts as one vote for your highest-ranked candidate still in the running. If your favorite candidate has been eliminated – just as in a traditional primary election – your choice is limited to one of the remaining candidates, and under RCV, your vote automatically counts for your next choice on the ballot.
Is it common for candidates who finished in second-place in the first round to win in the final round?
No. To date, of the 24 Ranked Choice Voting elections in Minnesota in which winners were decided in a runoff (with second- or third-choice votes), the second-place finisher won in only two of those elections. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen in highly competitive races.
If I rank a second and third choice, could it hurt my favorite candidate’s chances of winning?
No. Your vote counts for your second choice only if your first choice is eliminated. Your vote counts for your third choice only if your first and second choices are eliminated.
MPR News: How Does RCV Work?
MPR News: How Does RCV Work? V. 2: Propoportional Representation for Multiple Winners
Do voters have to rank all the candidates?
No. You can rank as many or as few candidates as you like, up to the limit of choices permitted by the final rules of the election. In most local RCV elections, voters can choose up to three choices. The value of ranking is to ensure your ballot continues to count if your first choice is eliminated, but, of course, the more a voter ranks, the more power their ballot has in deciding the outcome of the election.
Who supports Ranked Choice Voting?
Voters support Ranked Choice Voting — winning on the ballot in cities using it! RCV was adopted by 78 percent of voters in New York City in 2019. In Minneapolis, it passed 2:1 on the ballot, and in St. Paul by 52 percent of the voters. St. Louis Park city council adopted RCV by unanimous vote following a popular grassroots effort advocating for the change. Most recently, even in the midst of voting during a pandemic, Bloomington passed its RCV ballot measure by 51 percent, and Minnetonka by 55 percent.
RCV is also supported by a wide range of Minnesota political, business, community, and philanthropic leaders, media publications and civic organizations, including the League of Women Voters Minnesota and the DFL, Independent, Green, and Libertarian parties. It is supported by leaders across the political spectrum from John McCain and Republican Utah Governor Gary Herbert on the right to former President Barack Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders on the left. See our supporter page for our full list of advocates.
A growing number of national political scientists and business professors are championing RCV as a top reform to address our nation’s growing polarization, including Stanford Professor Larry Diamond, Harvard Professor Danielle Allen, award-winning author Lee Drutman, and Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, to name a few. Most recently, the bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, a project of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, cited RCV as one of the top reforms to strengthen our democracy.
Who opposes Ranked Choice Voting?
The main group opposed to Ranked Choice Voting in Minnesota is the Minnesota Voters Alliance, which challenged RCV with a lawsuit in 2009 and lost. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled unanimously that RCV is constitutional. It is the same group that led the unsuccessful Voter ID push in Minnesota in 2011 and recently lost its case before the Minnesota Supreme Court to require public disclosure of voter information. Senator Kiffmeyer, whose Elections Committee is leading an effort to preempt RCV in Minnesota, has served on their board.
What is the cost of implementing Ranked Choice Voting?
The cost for localities will depend on their voting equipment and whether or not local elections are held in odd or even years. For the many localities that hold local elections in odd years, RCV will save the expense of a costly and unnecessary primary.
An MIT Election Lab study showed that RCV implementation did not correlate with increased cost. It did show that cities that have RCV, which tend to be larger and more demographically diverse, invest more overall in their elections and voters than cities that do not.
While election officials may provide voter education about the new process, this cost should not be significantly higher than what they are already doing for voter education. Notably, the State of Maine successfully implemented RCV for the first time in a statewide election with a high voter turnout and spent only $83,000 on implementation, or less than $0.08 per voter.
How does Ranked Choice Voting encourage positive campaigning and help mitigate the influence of money?
Ranked Choice Voting encourages positive campaigning and helps reduce the influence of money in local campaigns. In the 2013 Minneapolis mayoral race, the winning candidate was outspent 3-to-1 by her leading opponent. Similar disparities in campaign spending by candidates and their PACs have been seen in other races elsewhere in the United States. Why? Because most of the big money raised is used for negative TV ads or mailings. Attack ads and messaging are not only unhelpful in an RCV campaign, but can actually backfire. This was seen in the Ward 2 council race in St. Paul in 2015 and St. Paul mayoral race in 2017, in which Independent Expenditure organizations sent negative mailers against the winning candidate. Negative campaigning may work under our current system, but is not a successful strategy under RCV.
RCV brings in new voices, levels the playing field and gives a fighting chance to candidates who have good ideas, but not big bank accounts.