What is Ranked Choice Voting?
Instead of choosing a single candidate, voters rank the candidates in preference order, as many as they like. This allows voters to pick their favorite candidate, followed by a series of backup choices.
While your vote goes further with the more candidates you rank, you don't have to rank anyone you don't like. It's part of your expression as a voter.
Why Ranked Choice Voting?
Our current voting system breaks when there are more than 2 candidates.
Similar candidates can split the vote and hand the win to a candidate that the majority of voters did not want. This is called the “spoiler effect”.
This problem breeds fear of choice: New candidates shy away, voters compromise. We resort to costly two-round elections and gatekeepers, stifling who can appear on the final ballot. Result: divisive campaigns, anti-competitive behavior, frustrated voters.
Ranked Choice Voting can find a winner with two strong choices
Ranked Choice elections are conducted as a series of “instant runoffs”. If any candidate has a majority of voter’s first choice votes, they win. If no candidate has a majority, the least vote-getter is eliminated. Instead of calling voters back to the polls for a runoff, we know their preferences ahead of time. Their votes go to their next choice. The process repeats until a winner is found.
Positive Benefits of RCV:
RCV elections are shown to encourage positive campaigning, since candidates don’t want to alienate 2nd and 3rd choice voters by attacking their first choice.
- More dynamic races encourage healthy competition and new ideas. Since candidates have to build a broad consensus in a wide field, it enforces accountability
- New candidates with new ideas/issues can get on the ballot without worrying about "spoiling the election". Voters are more empowered to vote their conscience.
RCV encourages majority wins. It cannot guarantee them. No voting system can guarantee that a majority of voters will like any one candidate. But, while our current system encourages people to drop out out of races to get to a majority, Ranked Choice Voting elections present an opportunity for new candidates to enter races when the other choices are unpopular.
- Municipalities that combine two elections (e.g. a primary and general election) into a single RCV race see a boost in participation.
- By combining two municipal elections into one single race, RCV can save Iowa taxpayers money.
- Voters like it because it gives them more expression at the ballot box.
Ranked Choice Voting By the Numbers:
There is no such thing as a perfect voting system and we do not claim Ranked Choice Voting to be perfect. We advocate for RCV in particular because, by the numbers, it is better than what we have in Iowa. It is the alternative voting system with the most experience in America. It is becoming more routine and it is generally well-liked by voters.
Where is Ranked Choice Voting Used:
Use of Ranked Choice Voting is gaining momentum, and the map below shows where Ranked Choice Voting is used in the United States as of June 2022.
Examples of where RCV is used for City, Mayoral, Local Level Elections
- Utah cities and towns: 23 total (in an on-going pilot program).
- Minnesota cities and towns: 5 total cities, 22 city offices in Minneapolis
- Approximately half of all 50 states have cities that use RCV.
Examples of where RCV is used for State, Federal, and Presidential Elections
- Maine: Adopted in 2016 and first used in 2018 for all state and federal primary elections and all general elections for Congress. Extended to apply to the general election for president beginning in 2020 and presidential primary elections beginning in 2024.
- Alaska: To be used in November 2022 for all state and federal general elections and in the 2024 presidential election.
Examples of where RCV is used for Party Primaries, Caucuses, and Conventions
- Indiana Republican Party
- Virginia Republican Party
- Utah Republican Party
- Utah Democratic Party
- Minnesota Democratic Party
- Oklahoma Democratic Party
- Hawaii Democratic Party
With more choice, fewer gatekeepers, and more voter voice, RCV elections tend to elect leaders that are more reflective of the voting public. This means more representation of women and minorities. Research also shows that RCV is well understood by voters across demographics.
Getting Ranked Choice Voting in Iowa:
For local elections, state legislators, or federal congresspeople: Legislation must be passed through the Iowa Legislature or the US Congress. For political parties: Any party could choose to use ranked choice voting in their party elections.
In 2023, the State House introduced HSB183, the Municipal Options Bill, that would give Iowa cities the power to adopt Ranked Choice Voting, should they want it. The bill does not mandate RCV or force it. The bill merely give cities the power to choose it for themselves. HSB183 did not make it out of sub-committee this year, but its introduction represented an important first-step in our conversation with law makers, election administrators, and the public. We expect this bill to return.
The cost to adopt Ranked Choice Voting in Iowa would not be significant because the voting equipment used in 95% of Iowa counties are already capable of conducting RCV elections.
- Learn about Iowa’s RCV readiness assessment here: https://www.rcvresources.org/iowa-state-assessment
- Compare Iowa’s RCV readiness to other states here: https://www.rcvresources.org/state-assessments
Ultimately, adoption in Iowa is going to require education, familiarity, and a mass movement. That's where we need your help!
- FairVote - data on RCV
- Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center
- Evaluating the Effects Ranked Choice Voting
- CGP Grey's Youtube Series on Voting Systems
- Radiolab: Tweak the Vote