Ranked Choice Voting
Just The Facts Issue Brief
What is ranked choice voting (RCV)?
RCV allows voters to rank more than one candidate in order of preference on the ballot (1st Choice, 2nd Choice, etc.) and eliminates the need to conduct separate runoff elections. If a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, that candidate wins just like in any other election.
If there is no majority after counting first choices, the race is decided by “instant runoff.” The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters who picked that losing candidate have their votes count for their next choice.
The process continues until two candidates remain and the majority candidate wins.
Why is this issue important?
In our current system, a candidate can be elected without a majority. According to supporters, RCV solves that problem, empowers voters, increases competition by eliminating the strategic voting, vote “splintering,” “wasted” vote and “spoiler” effects of our current single choice system, rewards positive campaigning, helps produce consensus and improves voter engagement and satisfaction.
Status in Connecticut
Governor Lamont has publicly advocated use of RCV and formally backed a bi-partisan RCV bill introduced in January 2023 by two state senators (D+R). The bill and RCV received substantial support in a legislative hearing and significant media coverage. Some 40+ legislators from both parties have committed to supporting RCV legislation to give the political parties the ability to use RCV in their primaries, to give municipalities the option to use RCV in single winner elections and to use RCV in federal elections as has been proposed by Connecticut’s US Representative Jim Himes.
Important questions states, communities, and citizens should ask
- Is increasing electoral competition and possibly weakening the two-party system wise?
- Will there be resources to provide the education needed to make RCV a success?
- What is the risk of voter confusion and of delay in reporting results and how should any such risks be weighed against the claimed benefits of RCV?
- When Portland, ME used RCV in its 2011 mayoral election, turnout was 15% higher than predicted.
- A 2021 study found that independent and third-party candidates fare better under RCV.
- A 2014 report found that RCV failed to produce a winner who received a majority of all votes cast in the four California and Washington elections studied.
- In San Francisco’s 2011 mayoral election, 27% of voters did not cast votes in the final round of voting.
Key Supporting Arguments
- RCV increases voter choice, empowers voters and encourages electoral competition particularly when combined with top 4-5, non-partisan primaries (read more).
- RCV eliminates “wasted vote” concerns. Voters can select the candidates they like best— including underdog candidates— without worrying that their vote will be wasted and help elect someone they don’t like. If a voter’s favorite candidate can’t win, their vote counts for their next choice.
- RCV has been shown to increase voter turnout.
- RCV rewards positive campaigning. RCV prevents candidates from winning by only appealing to a small base. An RCV candidate must work to earn the support of a broader range of voters.
- RCV produces a winner supported by the majority, increases legitimacy and helps reduce political division.
Key Opposing Arguments
- RCV can be confusing to voters and could result in more spoiled ballots at a time when trust in the integrity of elections is especially important.
- RCV can weaken the two major parties and that is a bad thing. The two party system and the system of electing candidates whether or not supported by a majority has served us well and should not be changed.
- There is value in voters getting to see two candidates battling each other for public support in a general election.
Connecticut Compact is an initiative of American Compact, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit seeking to build consensus on pressing challenges and opportunities in selected states, starting with Connecticut.
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