Ranked choice voting explained!

I wanted to tackle a subject that seems to be causing some confusion around dinner tables when politics is brought up. Sadly, politics always seems to come up when I just want the salt passed.

Saltless food aside, in today’s article, I’ll break down what Rank Choice Voting is, its merits, and why some seem to be hating on it so much.

So, let’s get into it, here’s ranked-choice voting explained!

What is Ranked Choice Voting?

Rank Choice voting is simple; it’s voting for a candidate by preference. Similar to anything else in life, you have preferences.

You might really want one thing but if that’s not available, you’ll have a second and third choice, and so on.

Ranked-Choice Voting works on the same principle, yes, you have your first choice candidate, the man or woman you really want to win but if he/she doesn’t, your second or third choice would be okay with you as a winner.

Make sense?

How does Rank Choice Voting work?

Picture of a confused man - Ranked Choice Voting Explained
Ranked Choice voting isn’t that hard to understand! Photo by: Andrea Piacquadio

Again, ranked-choice voting is based on preference. To make things easy, we’ll say that there are four (4) candidates running for an office. Candidates 1 through 4.

So, when you go to vote, you’ll vote for all 4 candidates based on your preference. You’ll have your first choice, then your second choice, and so on.

After tabulating the votes for all of the candidates, if one candidate gets the majority of the votes, 50% or more, he or she wins, automatically just like any other election.

Now, if neither of the candidates gets to 50% plus 1 vote then the “instant runoff” goes into effect.

Of the four candidates, the one with the least amount of votes overall gets instantly eliminated. Leaving the other three.

If your “first choice” choice candidate is eliminated, then the candidate that was your second choice gets your vote.

If a clear winner isn’t elected in this second round, again getting that 50% plus 1 vote, then the runoff continues.

Again, the candidate with the least amount of votes gets eliminated.

So, all of those that voted for him/her, the recent loser, will now have their third preference or choice given to the two remaining candidates and a winner should be obvious by this round of the runoff and a winner is declared.

Rank Choice Voting Example

Just in case what I just wrote was hard to follow, let me show it to you in the table below. We again have Candidates 1 – 4. The “X” represents your voting preference.

Candidate 1 is your first choice. He’s your number 1 guy or gal. If he/she gets the majority of the votes, he’s in like Flynn.

Big Election!1st2nd3rd4th
Candidate 1X
Candidate 2X
Candidate 3X
Candidate 4X
Ranked-Choice Example

Now, let’s say that doesn’t happen. No candidate gets that majority vote, like I said earlier, we go to the instant runoff, and bad news reader, your candidate got the lowest number of votes, so he’s gone. (See Below)

Big Election!1st2nd3rd4th
Candidate 1X
Candidate 2X
Candidate 3X
Candidate 4X
Ranked-Choice Example Instant Runoff Round 1

So, your first choice, Candidate 1, is out. I know, I know, he promised mandatory national nap times for all workers, maybe next year, but what happens to your vote now?

There are three candidates left, candidates 1-3. Your 2nd choice now receives your vote. As a matter of fact, all of the voters who voted for Candidate 1 will have their votes transferred to their second choice too!

Those votes are then tabulated. If there’s not a clear winner, again getting 50% of the vote, plus 1, then we go to runoff round #2!

Go to your corners fighters!

Okay, as we can see below, Candidates 1 and 2 are out, they didn’t get enough votes. So, your vote will now transfer to your 3rd choice of candidates.

Again, everyone else who voted for either candidate 1 or 2 will also have their votes transferred to their 3rd choice of candidate.

Votes will be tabulated one last time and the candidate with the most votes now wins.

Big Election!1st2nd3rd4th
Candidate 1X
Candidate 2X
Candidate 3X
Candidate 4X
Ranked-Choice Example Instant Runoff 2

What are the pros and cons of Rank Choice Voting?

As you may know, there are only a few states that currently use Ranked-Choice voting statewide, as well as some municipalities across the nation in local elections.

Like anything “new”, there’s often trepidation and of course good old-fashioned fear-mongering, from places like The Washington Examiner.

So, what are the pros and cons of Ranked-Choice voting?


  • Increased voter turnout
  • Winning candidates with the most support
  • Could encourage civil or “friendly” campaigns

Increased Voter Turnout:

In a previous article of mine, Does Voting Make a Difference? I touched briefly on how some people aren’t willing to vote because they believe that their vote “doesn’t count”.

As you saw above, your vote would count in a voting system like this. Regardless of the fact that your first choice doesn’t get picked, you’ve chosen a 2nd, 3rd, etc.

Essentially guaranteeing your vote goes toward a winning candidate, no matter what choice or preference they were for you.

Winning candidates with the most support:

Again, as I said earlier, this voting system won’t prevent “blowouts”. If one candidate is just enormously popular, and he/she gets the most votes they’ll win.

However, barring a blowout, again, the candidate with the most second or third-chance votes will win, as such, they’ll have more support from voters because they were a “choice” candidate one way or the other.

In the winner takes all system, there’s a whole half of the electorate that isn’t supported or cared about at all by the winner.

Could encourage civil or “friendly” campaigns:

If you’re in a system that rewards 2nd and 3rd choice votes, you as a candidate are going to be less likely to go “nuclear” on your opponent.

Vying for the “second choice” could be a good strategy. Do I think candidates will stand together and hold hands while singing?

I doubt it.

But it could result in conversations that focus more on policy and plans of action as opposed to “My opponent once jaywalked 50 years ago! Is that the type of person you want in office?!”

You know the type of attack ads I’m talking about, the kind that just makes you hate politics and election seasons. Rank Choice voting could lessen some of that.


  • It’s confusing
  • Will make results take longer
  • Could favor one party over the other

It’s confusing:

I won’t lie, at first glance, ranked-choice voting can appear confusing and too difficult. However, I think it all depends on how it’s explained to the voter.

If they can just be told that they picking their, first, second, and third choices, then it shouldn’t be too hard to understand but hey, for some, they may never get it.

It will make results take longer:

It’s difficult to argue this point, detractors have a good point, if there’s a “runoff” and multiple tabulations have to be made, then yes, that will take time. That could take longer.

However, my counterpoint would be that again, there could be “blowouts” where one uber-popular candidate wins regardless. No different than any other election.

Second, is that elections, when close take a long time to call a winner anyway. Why not make sure that we’re all voting for a candidate that we actually want?

Could favor one party or the other?

After the Trump era and the big lie, it’s commonplace to yell from the rooftops that an election is “stolen” or “rigged” etc.

It’s been no different with ranked-choice voting. Recently, former Governor Sarah Palin lost a bid to win a seat in the House of Representatives for Alaska.

She called the system “weird” and a host of other things, Senator Tom Cotton went a step further and called it, rank choice voting, ‘a scam’.

This is where I would normally shake my head and say, “Oh, just Republicans being Republicans, nothing to see here folks!”

But then you read an article from a Progressive website, like this one, bashing ranked-choice voting and it’s clear to see that this system just doesn’t bother Republicans but “extremists” on both sides of the aisle.

It’s almost like this system could provide a bigger voice to the middle, where most Americans fall, what’s wrong with that?

What states have Rank Choice voting?

Picture of a woman with her hand to her chin, looking curious.
What States have ranked choice voting? Photo By: Andrea Piacquadio

There are two states that use Ranked-Choice Voting for both state-wide and federal elections; Maine and Alaska. However, other states, like Nevada are jumping on the bandwagon.

More than that though, several municipalities across the nation have ranked-choice voting as their system for local elections, like Mayoral elections, etc.

Cities like San Fransisco, New York City, and even Springfield, Illinois! With several more, too many to list actually, with rank-choice voting in play.

Is Rank Choice Voting Constitutional?

That’s a tricky question. If you’re looking for a simple black-and-white answer, no. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that talks about rank-choice voting.

However, that isn’t the end all and be all. We live in a republic. Our individual states have their own states rights and their own constitutions.

The people of Alaska and Maine have voted to have that writing put into their state constitutions, therefore making it “constitutional”.

As more states follow suit and they are, I suspect that they’ll make the necessary inclusions in their state constitutions as well. Making it constitutional…in their state.

Now whether or not an amendment is made to the U.S. Constitution, well, we’ll just have to wait to see.

Should you support Rank Choice Voting?

I can’t tell you what to support, what works for me, may not work for you. However, I can tell you, reader, that I am a supporter.

I like knowing that one day, just because my first-choice candidate, doesn’t win, my vote isn’t discarded.

My vote would continue on to a second and potentially third person. Did I originally want them? No. I wanted my first choice but I like to think that I’d be happy that my 2nd choice is now in the office. Let’s go number #2!

Jokes aside, I’m not a fan of a winner-takes-all system. This isn’t a football game, we’re talking about our government, our country.

We cannot just have one team win, while thousands or millions of others are left behind and not listened to.


Alaska.govDivision of Elections

Maine.govRanked-Choice Voting in Maine

Fairvote.orgRanked Choice Voting

Featured Image provided by: DS stories

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