What Is Ranked-Choice Voting? Here’s How It Works

Election experts say it discourages negative campaigning and better represents the views of voters.

Lauren Young | October 6, 2020

Voting in Maine will look a little different this year.

Mainers are among the roughly 10 million voting-age adults living in an area that uses, or has adopted and will soon use, a method known as “ranked-choice voting” (RCV). In November, Maine is set to become the first state to use the method in a general presidential election, with more likely to follow.

Teen Vogue took a look at the potential future of America’s ballots, and what that might mean for voters and candidates alike.

What is ranked-choice voting?

RCV enables voters to rank candidates in order of preference. If a single candidate is ranked as the first choice for more than half of voters, they are declared the winner of the election, just as with more traditional winner-take-all voting methods.

Things change when a single candidate fails to be the first choice for more than 50% of voters. At that point, the candidate who received the fewest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. The voters who indicated the now-eliminated candidate as their first choice then have their votes directed to the candidate they designated as their second choice. This “instant run-off” process continues until a candidate has secured a majority of the votes and can be declared the winner.

For a visual representation of what this process looks like, check out this video from FairVote, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to voting reform, and one of the leading entities working to expand RCV.