What Is Ranked-Choice Voting?

September 18, 2023

Voters have often found themselves stuck at a crossroads, torn between voting for the candidate they truly believe in or the one who stands a better chance of winning. This predicament is why there is growing support for ranked-choice elections.

The Voting Dilemma Explained

When there are multiple candidates in a race they can identify with, voters should feel empowered by having such good options. However, in a single-choice voting system, potential issues can arise. 

Having candidates who are similar can lead to a problem called ‘vote splitting.’ This happens when votes are distributed between similar candidates, lowering the chances that any one of them will come out on top. This split could lead to a less favorable candidate winning instead.

To avoid this pitfall, voters often feel compelled to strategize. They might vote for a ‘lesser evil’ (or a candidate they don't fully support but who has a better chance of winning) over their actual favorite. They do this to prevent their least favored candidate from winning–a phenomenon known as the ‘spoiler effect.’

This fear of vote splitting and being forced to vote for a lesser evil strongly influences voter behavior, favoring the most winnable candidates. In practice, these tend to be candidates who've raised the most money, are incumbents, or have a lot of name recognition. This bias toward perceived electability perpetuates itself, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that skews true democratic representation.

How Does Ranked-Choice Voting Work?

In the ranked-choice voting process, voters don't simply select one candidate. Instead, they rank them according to their preferences–first choice, second choice, and so forth. If no candidate manages to secure a majority of the votes (more than 50%), the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated from the race. 

The twist here is that the votes initially given to this eliminated candidate aren't thrown away. Instead, they're redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the voters' subsequent choices. This iterative process continues, with elimination rounds and redistribution of votes until a winner emerges. The advantage of ranked-choice voting is that the winning candidate truly has the broadest support among voters, rather than just a simple majority.

Tips for a Hassle-Free Ranked-Choice Voting 

Educate the Voters

Before a ranked-choice election, ensure all potential voters understand the system. This could involve informational meetings, email bulletins, tutorial videos, and Q&A sessions. For example, a group might create a simple animated video that illustrates the ranked-choice voting process in a user-friendly manner.

Test the System

Before the actual election, it’s a good idea to run a mock election or a series of tests to check the robustness of the voting system at hand. This will help identify potential problems and ensure the process runs smoothly on election day.

Design Simple-to-Use Ballots

Design ballots to be as straightforward as possible. Voters should easily understand how to rank their candidates. Providing instructions on the ballot and sample filled-out ballots can be helpful. Groups can also consider using electronic ballots. 

With a well-designed electronic ballot, voters can see their ranking choices and easily rearrange their preferences before submitting their votes. This makes ranking candidates more intuitive and reduces the likelihood of errors. 

It also reduces the time and labor required to determine a winner, particularly in races with many candidates. ElectionBuddy can help organizers to create custom ballots that precisely match the needs of their election.

Employ Robust Software

Online voting raises valid concerns about security and fraud. If the election is conducted online, a reliable, user-friendly, and secure voting platform is essential, as is a reliable ranked-choice voting calculator. 

Choose a platform with advanced encryption and security measures to protect the voting process from interference or hacking. Platforms like ElectionBuddy can handle the intricacies of ranked-choice voting while maintaining voter confidentiality and ensuring accuracy.

Review Results Carefully

Once the voting is finished, take the time to review the results carefully. Look for patterns or anomalies that might suggest areas for improvement in future elections. If a candidate who ranked first on a majority of ballots ends up losing after several rounds of counting, it may indicate strategic voting or other dynamics at play that are worth exploring.

Final Thoughts

The beauty of ranked-choice voting is that it ensures the winner has broad support among voters. If a voter’s top choice doesn't win, their vote still counts toward their next preferred candidate.

ElectionBuddy's cloud-based platform provides a convenient, easy-to-use solution for running ranked-choice elections. It simplifies the process, reduces the chances of errors, and ensures voters have a frictionless voting experience.

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