Instant Runoff Voting

Introduction to Instant Runoff Voting
(Based on an information brochure from FairVote -The Center for Voting and Democracy, January 2016)

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), sometimes known as Ranked Choice Voting, describes a voting method that allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference and then uses those rankings to elect a candidate who combines strong support with broad support by simulating a series of runoff elections in the event that no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the initial count.

IRV helps to elect a candidate more reflective of a majority of voters in a single election even when several viable candidates are in the race. It does this by counting the votes in rounds. First, all votes are tabulated with every ballot counting for its first choice. If a candidate has a majority of the vote based on first choices, that candidate wins. If no candidate has a majority of those votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the active votes, or only two candidates remain. The candidate with a majority among the active candidates is declared the winner. In each round, each voter’s ballot counts only once.

IRV is straightforward for voters: rank candidates in order of choice. Voters can rank as few or as many candidates as they want, without fear that ranking others will hurt the chances of their favorite candidate. Exit polls and ballot analyses from ranked choice voting elections demonstrate that voters overwhelmingly understood how to rank candidates.

Benefits of IRV

(excerpted from

Encourages More Civil Campaigning

In non-ranked choice voting elections, candidates benefit from “mud-slinging” by attacking an opponent’s character instead of sharing their positive vision with voters. With Instant Runoff Voting, candidates do best when they find common ground with as many voters as possible, including those supporting their opponents. Candidates who have run and won in instant runoff voting elections have been successful because they built grassroots outreach networks. Those more positive and inclusive campaign tactics cost less than polarizing negative radio and television elections, helping to explain why candidates are sometimes able to win IRV elections even when outspent.

A comprehensive Rutgers University poll of voters in seven cities with instant runoff voting and 14 control cities found that voters in IRV cities reported friendlier campaigns and more direct engagement with candidates.

Provides More Choice for Voters

Democracy is strongest when more voices are heard. Potential candidates are often reluctant to run, or discouraged from running, to avoid “vote splitting” in which candidates can and do win with very little support. That often means a low turnout election. IRV allows more than two candidates to compete without fear of splitting the vote.

Minimizes Strategic Voting

Voters should be able to vote for candidates they support, not just against candidates they oppose most. Yet in elections without IRV, voters may feel that they need to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” because their favorite candidate is less likely to win. With instant runoff voting, a voter can honestly rank candidates in order of choice without having to worry about how others will vote and who is more or less likely to win.

Jurisdictions Using Instant Runoff Voting

Instant runoff voting is used or has been passed in the following U.S. cities:

  • Berkeley, CA
  • Oakland, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • San Leandro, CA
  • Telluride, CO
  • Basalt, CO*
  • Cambridge, MA
  • Takoma Park, MD
  • Portland, ME
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • St. Paul, MN
  • Sarasota, FL*
  • Memphis, TN*

For a complete list of institutions using IRV, which include multiple international jurisdictions, over 50 U.S. colleges and universities, hundreds of private associations and prominent international uses, see:

*Passed but yet to be implemented

Take Action

The Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Tell Congress to fix the court’s bad decision!

Take action.


Give Today