Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference from their favorite to least favorite: first choice, second choice, and so on. It works like this:

1st Choice: The candidate you love.

2nd choice: The candidate you like.

3rd or later choices: The candidate you like but slightly less.

Ranked Choice Voting allows you to vote your true preference rather than worrying how your vote will impact other candidates in the race.

Ranking Your Ballot 

Filling out your ballot using Ranked Choice Voting is easy: Simply indicate your first choice candidate in the first column, your second choice in the second column, and so on. Remember that the more candidates you rank, the more power your ballot will have. 

There is no way to vote strategically using RCV. Voting only for one candidate or the same candidate more than once, will not improve that candidate’s chances of winning.

Best practice is for voters to rank as many candidates as they like and as long as they have a preference between candidates.


Single Seat Elections

Winning a single-seat RCV election requires a candidate to earn support from a majority of voters – 50% + 1. If a candidate earns a majority of first-choice votes then that candidate wins, just like in our current system.

 However, if no candidate receives majority support, then an instant runoff process takes place. In the runoff, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and  their votes now count for their second choices.. This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority and wins.

Multi Seat Elections

 In multi-seat races,  candidates must reach a winning threshold, depending on the number of seats to fill according to the formula: [1/(# of seats to fill + 1)] + 1 vote. In a two-seat election, the threshold is 33% + 1, in a 3-seat election, the threshold is 25% + 1.  

If no candidate reaches the winning threshold, the last-place finisher is eliminated and those ballots are reallocated to remaining candidates based on those voters’ second choices as described above. If a candidate receives more votes than needed to win, these votes are not wasted but are instead used to help elect the additional seats. For example, if Candidate A receives twice as many votes she needs to win, the unused share of votes (half in this case) are reallocated proportionally to the remaining candidates — half of each ballot cast for A would go on to the second choice on those voters’ ballots. This process continues until candidates reach the winning threshold and all seats are filled.  

RCV provides proportional representation in multi-seat elections and ensures as many voters as possible help elect the candidates. It is the most cost-effective and efficient way to ensure winners have broad voter support, coalesce fragmented groups holding similar views, avoid wasted votes, and eliminate the spoiler effect.

While most jurisdictions use RCV for single-seat elections, a growing number of municipalities are using RCV for multi-seat elections. Minneapolis uses RCV for multi-seat Park Board and Board of Estimate and Taxation elections. As a remedy to a voting rights lawsuit in 2018, Eastpointe, MI adopted RCV for multi-seat city council elections in order to ensure fair representation of the African American community.

Rank Your Vote is a project of FairVote Minnesota, a nonprofit, nonpartisan election reform organization that engages hundreds of volunteers and thousands of supporters. Together, we work for a stronger democracy through public education and advocacy for Ranked Choice Voting, a system proven to be more inclusive, democratic, and representative than our current plurality electoral system. We educate and support candidates, elected officials, cities and voters in preparation for RCV elections.