Ranked Preference Voting

Ranked Preference Voting aka Ranked Choice Voting is a form of Instant Runoff Voting. It has numerous advantages, large and small, but the most important is that it greatly reduces the spoiler effect, aka fratricide.

This is a nonpartisan issue. Voters of all stripes should want this – Republican, Democratic, Green, Libertarian, and independent. Politicians as well as ordinary voters should want this. Anybody who cares about good government should want this.

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1  Basic Features

The basic idea is shown in figure 1. You indicate which candidate is your first choice, which is your second choice, and so on. For any given contest, there should be at most one filled-in bubble in each row, and at most one in each column. You can skip some candidate(s) if you really, really don’t like them.

Figure 1: Ranked Preference Voting

From the voter’s point of view it works like this: After all the votes are cast, the tally process proceeds by stages. Initially, only your first-choice vote counts. Then at each stage, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. If your first-choice candidate gets eliminated, then your vote gets transferred to your second-choice candidate, and so on. The process continues until one candidate has an outright majority.

For additional details, see reference 1.

2  Discussion

3  History: Good and Bad Examples

  1. Republicans blame Perot for costing them the 1992 presidential election.
  2. Democrats blame Nader (on top of other factors) for costing them the infamous 2000 presidential election.
  3. Paul LePage won with less than 38% of the vote against divided opposition in the 2010 race for governor of Maine.
  4. In Arizona, school governing board elections are supposedly nonpartisan, with no primary at all. It is common for weak candidates to win against divided opposition.
  5. In the 2018 senate race, Arizona only narrowly avoided a situation where the margin of victory was smaller than the number of third-party votes ... even though the third party had dropped out and endorsed one of the other candidates. As it turns out, that candidate won anyway, but if she had narrowly lost there would have been tremendous hard feelings. Two of the three candidates would have been unhappy with the outcome. A majority of voters would have been unhappy with the outcome. This is exactly the sort of bad outcome that Ranked Preference Voting prevents.
  6. In 2018, the Maine senate race used Ranked Preference Voting, and it actually produced a nontrivial result; that is, a result different from the first-past-the-post (plurality) result. Ranked Preference Voting manifestly prevented a situation where a majority of the candidates and a majority of the voters would have been unhappy with the outcome. The result survived a court challenge from the sore loser.

4  Roll-Out Tactics

Although it would be best to use Ranked Preference Voting for all elections, there may be some political resistance to that.

We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. As a first step in the right direction, it might make sense to enact Ranked Preference Voting for just those elections that don’t currently have a partisan primary – including school governing boards and municipal offices.

This provides a low-risk way for voters (and county election officials!) to become famililar with the system.

5  References

Fairvote.org, “Ranked Choice Voting”
Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem
Kenneth Arrow – Nobel Prize
Arizona Secretary of State
“Voter RegistrationHistorical Election Data”
nonpartisan city and town elections
Election of school governing board members
Maine election law in general:
Ranked Choice Voting in particular:
Arizona Secretary of State