Strategy 1 Achieve Equality of Voice and Representation

Ranked-Choice Voting

Strategy 1
Achieve Equality of Voice and Representation

Recommendation 1.2

Introduce ranked-choice voting in presidential, congressional, and state elections.

Read in the Report

Winner-take-all?

In the United States, too many election outcomes do not represent the preferences of a majority of voters.

This is because most state and congressional elections are determined on a winner-take-all basis: the candidate who receives the most votes wins, even if they did not win a majority of votes. In presidential elections, most states allocate all of their Electoral College votes to the state’s popular vote winner.

The winner-take-all model presents serious shortcomings. When votes are distributed among three or more candidates, the winner of the election may be a candidate who is disliked by most voters. In those cases, a vocal minority is able to impose its will over a more moderate majority, candidates are incentivized to appeal to political fringes and third-party candidates face pressure not to run lest they split the vote.

Ranked-choice voting

There is an alternative: ranked-choice voting.

Instead of choosing only one candidate, voters choose their preferred candidate and then rank their second choice, their third choice, and so on. After votes are tallied, the least popular candidate is removed, and that candidate’s supporters’ votes are allocated to their second choices. The process continues until a single candidate receives a majority of support.

  

Ranked-Choice Voting by State
Twenty-six states permit ranked-choice voting for at least one type of election.
Source: FairVote.org

The reallocation of votes is tantamount to a run-off election, without the need for voters to show up at the polls a second time. Because second and third choices matter in the ranked-choice model, candidates have an incentive to speak to a broader group of voters.

The result: more moderate candidates and campaigns, a more welcoming environment for third-party candidates, and greater confidence among voters that their votes are not being wasted or distorting the outcome.

“We’ve seen what happens when there are three candidates running and the way that a strong, usually very polemical minority, wins. And I don’t think it’s in the best interest of building community and trying to work together to have people who are elected, elected by a minority of the voters. And so what I like about ranked-choice voting is that by the end of the day coalitions have been formed in order to give somebody more than 50% and to me that’s more of an endorsement of whoever that leader is who becomes elected.”
—Bangor, ME

Example

Ranked-choice voting has already been effectively instituted at the state and local levels.

Ranked-choice voting became law in Maine through a ballot initiative in 2016 and was used to determine a majority winner in one of Maine’s two congressional districts in 2018. In a poll that year, 61 percent of Maine residents approved of ranked-choice voting. In 2020, Maine will become the first state to use ranked-choice voting in a presidential election.

Champion

FairVote and Campaign Legal Center and RepresentWomen and Unite America are committed to working to implement this recommendation in order to help reinvent American democracy for the 21st century.

FairVote is a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice, and a representative democracy that works for all.

Campaign Legal Center is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works to reduce the influence of money in politics and to support unrestricted access to voting. CLC supports strong enforcement of United States campaign finance laws.

RepresentWomen works to advance women's representation and leadership through research and advocacy on data-driven systems strategies that enable all women to run, win, serve, and lead in appointed and elected offices in the United States.

Unite America is a movement of Democrats, Republicans, and independents working to put voters first by fostering a more representative and functional government. Unite America invests in campaigns to enact reforms and elect candidates so that the right leaders have the right incentives to solve our country's greatest problems.

See the full list of Our Common Purpose Champions.

In order to implement Recommendation 1.2 by 2026, the Commission proposes the following milestones to complete by year-end of:

2021

  • Finalize standards through the Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines of the Elections Assistance Commission for what it means to run a ranked-choice voting election so a voting equipment vendor can have machines that are consistent with the standards and have them ready to execute those

2022

  • Ranked-choice voting is used for federal or state-level elections in at least 15 states
  • Fifty percent of all Americans say they know what ranked-choice voting is
  • Congress passes an updated version of the Help America Vote Act to support election security, including federal funding for equipment. This law should also require that any voting equipment purchased with federal dollars be standardized for use in ranked-choice elections

2023

  • Ranked-choice voting used at some level of the system in at least thirty-five states, with balance between red and blue states doing so
  • Laws in place in ten states for using ranked-choice voting in federal elections, including Congressional elections

2024

  • At least three states establish a non-winner-take-all method (possibly ranked-choice but other methods are also available) for their state legislative elections
  • Both parties have built ranked-choice voting into their presidential nominating rules

2025

  • Ranked-choice voting is used at the local, state or federal in every state

2026

  • A supermajority of Americans say they know what ranked-choice voting is