Types of RCV

Depending on the election, there are two types of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV):

  • Single-Winner
  • Multi-Winner


If three or more candidates are running for a single office, voters could rank the candidates in order of preference (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc). Ballots are initially counted by tallying all 1st choice votes. If one candidate gets a majority (>50%) of the 1st choice votes, then that candidate is elected.
If no candidate has a majority after the first count, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated. The voters who had that candidate as their 1st choice will then have their vote count for the candidate they marked as their 2nd choice. Elimination of last-place finishers and counting next choices on those ballots continues until one candidate gets a majority of votes in that round and is elected.

Ranking candidates eliminates the “spoiler effect” where a third candidate appears to have drawn votes away from a candidate who is preferred by most voters and causes that candidate to lose in a closely contested race. It can also eliminate the need for certain primaries or runoffs.


Ranked choice voting can be used in multi-winner elections, in which multiple candidates are elected for a governing body, such as a city council, state legislature, or the U.S. House of Representatives. This type of voting system is also known as Single Transferable Vote, and is based on proportional representation.

With multi-winner ranked choice voting, candidates who receive a certain share of votes will be elected; this share of votes is called the threshold. The threshold is intended to be the smallest number which guarantees that no more candidates can can reach the threshold than the number of seats to be filled.

A candidate who reaches the threshold is elected, and any excess votes over the threshold are then counted for the voters’ second choices. Then, after excess votes are counted, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters who picked that candidate as ‘number 1’ will have their votes count for their next choice. This process continues until all seats are filled.

Today, most legislative bodies in America are chosen in single-winner elections. When everyone in a legislature is elected from single-member, "winner-take-all" districts, only the majority (or plurality) of voters who supported a winning candidate can actually feel represented.

Multi-winner ranked choice voting allows more views to be represented in a legislative body and enables more voters to elect someone who shares their viewpoint. Instead of five representatives elected in each of five single-member districts, all five might be chosen from a larger, multi-member district.

But unlike traditional multi-member elections, where the majority voters often dominate all the seats, ranked choice voting allows a diversity of winners, assuring both majority rule and fair minority representation. Ranked choice voting assures that any substantial like-minded group can win representation roughly in proportion to its share of the vote in the represented region. A majority will still elect a majority of the representatives but not all of them. Minorities will be able to elect their fair share of representatives.

Contents of this page provided courtesy of FairVote.

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