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What is ranked voting? : NPR

An illustration of a hand filling out a ballot for a hypothetical borough presidential election. Carlos Cruz is ranked first, Bella Bryson second, Deepika Doshi third and Aaron Abbott fourth.

In 2020, Alaskans voted to establish a ranked voting system for the general election, which was implemented earlier this year. And it quickly had an impact, as Democratic Representative Mary Peltola beat two Republicans to win a special election to take a seat in the United States House. Likewise, in this fall’s general election, since no candidate has secured a majority in the Senate and House races — defined as 50% plus one vote — there will be another round of counting on Wednesday.

Maine also uses a priority voting system for all primary elections and federal general elections, and voters in Nevada have taken a first step toward establishing such a system.

But what does all this mean?

In ranked voting systems, voters can rank multiple candidates. If a candidate receives a majority of first preference votes, the election is over and that candidate wins.

If no one reaches 50% plus one, the candidate in last place is eliminated. Then, the next choice on that candidate’s ballots is reallocated and counted. This process repeats itself until someone obtains a majority. The number of rounds varies according to the number of candidates and the proximity of the elections.

The hypothetical example below walks you through a few scenarios – one in which a candidate wins outright and one in which two rounds of choice voting take place.

Here is the ballot for our example:

An illustration of a preferential ballot for a hypothetical election for the presidency of a borough. The candidates are Aaron Abbott, Bella Bryson, Carlos Cruz and Deepika Doshi. The instructions read: Rank up to four choices. Mark no more than one oval in each column.

Scenario 1

Someone gets more than 50% plus one. They definitely win.

An illustration of a bar graph showing each candidate's vote share on the ballot. Bella Bryson won with more than 50% of the votes.

Scenario 2

No one reaches the threshold. Now let’s go to the vote in order of priority.

An illustration of a bar chart with the four candidates. Bella Bryson is in the lead, but no candidate has more than 50% of the vote.

The candidate with the fewest votes—Aaron Abbott—is eliminated. All of their votes are redistributed to those voters’ second-best choices.

All ballots that ranked Abbott first and did not rank the other choices become inactive or exhausted. In other words, these ballots cannot be counted in future rounds because no candidate remaining in the contest is ranked.

An illustration of the previous histogram where no candidate won a majority of votes. The arrows show that Abbott's vote is redistributed to the other candidates, as they have the smallest vote share. Bryson still holds the lead, but less than 50% of the vote.

Yet no one reaches the threshold. Thus, the next candidate with the fewest votes – Deepika Doshi – is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to the next voters’ choices.

An illustration of a bar chart with the remaining three candidates. The arrows show Deepika Doshi's vote redistribution, as they now have the smallest vote share. With these new votes, Carlos Cruz holds more than 50% of the votes.

Finally, someone reaches the threshold. Carlos Cruz wins.

This can last several rounds, depending on the number of candidates and the proximity of the vote.

NPR News

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
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