Ranked-choice voting in the United States
Ranked-choice voting (RCV), also known as instant-runoff voting (IRV), is used for state primary, congressional, and presidential (beginning in 2020) elections in Maine and for local elections in more than 20 US cities including San Francisco, California; Oakland, California; Berkeley, California; San Leandro, California; Takoma Park, Maryland; St. Paul, Minnesota; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Portland, Maine; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and St. Louis Park, Minnesota. New York City is by far the largest voting population in the US that has opted for RCV, pending implementation in 2021. RCV is commonly used for student leadership and other non-governmental elections. It has been proposed for presidential elections and will be used in four states in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries.
Between 1912 and 1930, limited forms of RCV (typically with only two rankings) were implemented and subsequently repealed in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In the 1970s, it was implemented and repealed in Ann Arbor, Michigan. More recently, it was adopted and repealed in Pierce County, Washington (2006–2009); Burlington, Vermont (2005–2010); Aspen, Colorado (2007-2010); and in North Carolina, which allowed its use in certain elections between 2006 and 2013.
In 2016, voters in Maine approved an initiative to become the first state to use RCV statewide in elections for governor, state legislature, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House. Despite a ruling by the state supreme court that RCV was inconsistent with the requirements of the Maine Constitution for the elections of governor and state legislature, and despite subsequent efforts by the state legislature to delay implementation of RCV, a veto referendum campaign kept the RCV law in place, with the state supreme court ruling that RCV would be introduced for the primary on June 12, 2018. In that election, Maine voters re-affirmed implementation of RCV by popular referendum while using RCV for the first time in primaries for the offices of governor, U.S. House, and state legislator. The November general election for Maine's 2nd congressional district saw the loss of Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin in the second round to Democratic candidate Jared Golden.
Use at presidential level
Maine, starting 2020
On August 26, 2019, the Maine legislature passed a bill adopting RCV for both presidential primaries and general election. On September 6, 2019, Governor Janet Mills allowed the bill to become law without her signature, which delayed it from taking effect until after the 2020 Democratic primary in March but puts Maine on track to be the first state to use RCV for a presidential general election. The law continues the use of the congressional district method for the allocation of electors, as Maine and Nebraska have used in recent elections. The change could potentially prevent the projection of the winner(s) of Maine's electoral votes for over a week after election day and will complicate interpretation of the national popular vote.
Democratic presidential primaries, 2020
Six states planned to use RCV in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries: Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, and Wyoming for all voters; Iowa and Nevada for absentee voters. Rather than eliminating candidates until a single winner is chosen, voters' choices would be reallocated until all remaining candidates have at least 15%, the threshold to receive delegates to the convention.
Use at state and federal levels
Maine Question 5, 2016 asked Maine voters whether to implement RCV for primary and general elections for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and state legislature, starting in 2018. It was approved by 52% to 48%, making Maine the first state to use RCV for all such elections. However, on May 23, 2017, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an advisory opinion stating that the state constitution specified that for general elections for governor and the state legislature only a plurality was required to win, which is not consistent with the use of RCV and its multi-round vote transfers to ensure majority support. In June 2017, the legislature debated legislation to propose a constitutional amendment, to repeal the measure entirely, and to keep RCV in place for elections for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and primaries. All bills failed to pass in the regularly scheduled legislative session, but the legislature voted in October 2017 to delay implementation until 2021, by which time either a constitutional amendment must be adopted or the entire law would be considered repealed. Maine voters then collected enough signatures to force a veto referendum of the parts of the new law that blocked use of RCV for primary and congressional elections. In April 2018, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled against a legal challenge seeking to prevent RCV from being used in state primaries and elections for federal office starting in June 2018. The people's veto, Question 1, passed in the June 12, 2018 election, which was also the first election that used RCV for state and federal offices, including Republican and Democratic primaries for governor, the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District, and the Republican primary for House District 75.
2018 Congressional election
In the November 2018 general election, though Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin led in the first round of votes of the 2nd Congressional District election by 2,171 votes, the Democratic candidate Jared Golden won with a majority of 3,509 votes in the final round count after votes for independent candidates Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar were transferred to the totals of the top two candidates. As a result, Poliquin became the first incumbent to lose the 2nd Congressional District since 1916.
North Carolina, 2006–2013
A 2006 law had established that RCV would be used when judicial vacancies were created between a primary election and sixty days before a general election. In November 2010, North Carolina had three RCV elections for local-level superior court judges, each with three candidates, and a statewide RCV election for a North Carolina Court of Appeals seat (with 13 candidates). The Court of Appeals race is believed to be the first time RCV has been used in any statewide general election in the United States.
The statewide RCV law was repealed by the General Assembly in 2013 as part of a sweeping voter ID bill, meaning that special judicial elections with more than two candidates would once again be decided by a simple plurality.
Party primaries, caucuses, and conventions
Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, 1912–1930
In the United States, RCV election laws were first adopted in 1912. Five states (Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) used versions of RCV for party primaries, typically with each voter having two rankings and candidates needing to finish in the top two to advance to the instant runoff (also known as supplementary voting). By 1930 each jurisdiction had replaced RCV.
Republican Party of Utah
After voting to authorize its use, the Republican Party of Utah used RCV in 2002, 2003 and 2004 at its statewide convention, including in a contested race to nominate a governor in 2004. In 2005, Republicans used repeated balloting for its statewide convention and has done so in subsequent years. Some county Republican parties like Cache County continue to use instant runoff voting at their conventions, and IRV was used by Republicans to fill several state legislative vacancies in 2009-2011.
Democratic Party of Virginia
In 2014, the Democratic Party of Arlington, Virginia used RCV in two "firehouse primaries" for countywide office that each drew several thousand voters, and it joined with the Democratic Party of Fairfax county that year to use RCV in a seven-candidate primary election for a special election for the House of Delegates. Arlington Democrats also used the system in 2016.
In May 2009, the Democratic Party of Charlottesville, Virginia, held its first open caucus to select its nominees for city council and sheriff, using RCV. Voter turnout was close to 1,600 voters. One of two city council incumbents was renominated and another was defeated by a challenger without the need for an instant runoff. Three candidates ran in the sheriff's race. No candidate won an initial majority. In the instant runoff, James E. Brown III defeated Mike Baird.
In August 2011, the Party again used to nominate candidates. Voter turnout rose to 2,582 in the city council race for three nominations. Two candidates were nominated with a majority of the first round vote. The final nomination was determined by RCV.
Independence Party of Minnesota (2004 Presidential poll)
In part to increase awareness of the voting method and to demonstrate it in a real-world situation, the Independence Party of Minnesota tested RCV by using it in a straw poll during the 2004 Minnesota caucuses.
The poll allowed a none of the above option which could not be eliminated. Their rules eliminated one weakest candidate at a time, or all candidates in a tie at the bottom. They continued the elimination until only one candidate remained to confirm that this candidate had more support than none of the above.
This summary table shows the first round, and final five rounds, excluding five rounds during which 18 weak candidates were eliminated.
|John F. Kerry
|George W. Bush
(<10 votes each)
|None of the above||32|
Use at local and city levels
The city of Berkeley, California passed (72%) RCV in 2005 to use RCV to elect the mayor, auditor and city council. The city used RCV for the first time in November 2010 for elections for four city council seats and the city auditor. Berkeley used IRV for electing its mayor and four city council seats in November 2012. The city continues to use RCV, including in city elections in November 2014 and November 2016.
The city of Oakland, California, passed (69%) a measure in November 2006 to adopt RCV for 18 city offices. In November 2010, Oakland used RCV to elect its mayor, three city council races and four other local offices, with elections for mayor and council district four requiring multiple rounds of counting. It used RCV in the city's remaining elected offices in 2012. IRV was again used in 2014 and 2016, including in the 2014 mayoral election in which incumbent Jean Quan was defeated by Libby Schaaf.
2010 mayoral election
Oakland's 2010 mayoral election was an open-seat election in which no candidate earned more than 34% of votes in the first round. In the tally, candidates were eliminated sequentially, with three candidates far ahead in first choices. After the count of first choices, Don Perata was in first place, Jean Quan in second place, and Rebecca Kaplan in third place. They remained in that order of votes after all other candidates were eliminated and their votes re-allocated. When Kaplan was then eliminated, Quan picked up 18,864 votes from Kaplan backers while Perata was the next choice of only 6,407 Kaplan backers. As a result, Quan won a final round majority when matched against Perata, which means she was ranked ahead of Perata on a majority of ballots in which one of them received a ranking.(11% of voters did not rank either of them, making their votes exhausted by the time of the final round.)
|Candidate||Round 1||…||Round 9||Round 10|
|Larry Lionel LL Young Jr.||933||0.78%||+6|
Oakland used RCV for several elections in 2012, including a citywide election for city attorney and for several seats on the city council and school board. Several races were decided after multiple rounds, including the District 3 city council race where the winner trailed in first choices. Of the 18 Oakland offices elected by RCV in 2010 and 2012, sixteen of the RCV winners received more votes than the previous winner had won before adoption in the last non-RCV election
San Francisco has used RCV for its Board of Supervisors and most citywide offices nearly every November since 2004. In March 2002, an initiative backed by a broad coalition of civic organizations won 55% of the vote to adopt ranked-choice voting. A unanimous panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld San Francisco's RCV law as constitutional.
RCV was first used in October 2004 for YouthVOTE, an election held throughout San Francisco's public schools which elected the San Francisco school board's student delegate; after that, it was used in the November 2004 supervisoral races and every November since that time for at least one election in the city. RCV has played a decisive role in at least one city election in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. Exit polls by San Francisco State University have shown support for the new system from all groupings of voters.
The San Francisco Department of Elections prefers the term ranked-choice voting rather than instant-runoff voting because "the word 'instant' might create an expectation that final results will be available immediately after the polls close on election night." The department used to release first-choice totals immediately but wait until more absentee ballots arrived before running subsequent rounds of counting. That practice has since changed.
San Francisco continues to hold RCV elections as of 2017, several of which have gone to multiple rounds of counting. In 2010, for example, two candidates won who were not the leaders in first-choice rankings. In 2011, all three citywide elections up for election- mayor, sheriff and district attorney— were decided in RCV tallies. In the wake of the November 2012 elections, sixteen of eighteen offices elected by RCV were held by people of color.
Election results for 2004, 2005, and 2006 are provided in greater detail below.
There were four elections that used multiple rounds of counting after there was no majority winner in the first round: Districts 1,5,7, and 11.
- District 1: There were 7 candidates, reduced to 2 candidates in 4 rounds. The winner won 54% of the final round count, which amounted to 48.67% of the total first-round votes, with 9.89% of the ballots exhausted by the final round.
- District 5: There were 22 candidates, reduced to 3 in 19 rounds, when the winner had a majority of active ballots. The winner finished with 50.6% of the final round vote against two runners up, which amounted to 37.63% of the first-round vote with 25.63% of the ballots exhausted.
- District 7: There were 13 candidates, reduced to 2 in 11 rounds. The winner finished with 57% of the votes cast for the two active candidates in the final round. Of first round votes, this amounted to 43.72% of the first-round vote, with 23.12% exhausted ballots.
- District 11: There were 8 candidates, reduced to 2 in 6 rounds. The winner finished with 58% of the final round vote, which amounted to 46.08% of the total first-round vote, with 21.01% of the ballots exhausted.
The District 5 results are included below as the largest election from 2004 and the one with the most rounds of counting. The elimination table shows the candidates reordered by their elimination. The elimination process was stable for the highest 5 candidates, holding their same plurality ranking each round despite the 19 rounds of elimination and transfer votes.
The RCV elimination process was halted when candidate Mirkarimi reached more than 50% of the active ballots, but only 37.6% of the total first-round ballots. This stopping point is pragmatic for picking a winner, but fails to show how many votes the winner had compared to only the strongest runner up candidate.
There was one election requiring multiple rounds of counting, with 4 candidates and finding a 55% majority winner in two rounds.
There were two elections that required multiple rounds of counting, districts 4 and 6:
- District 4: There were 6 candidates which were reduced to 2 in 4 rounds. The winner ended with 52.5% of the final round vote for active candidates, which amounted to 42.33% of the first-round vote, with 19.38% exhausted ballots.
- District 6: There were 8 candidates and was stopped on the second round with 4 candidates remaining. The winner had 49.99% of the total first-round votes, with 48.37% divided among the 3 runners up, and 1.64% exhausted ballots.
The detailed runoff results for district 4 are:
|Race and Candidate||Pass 1||Pass 2||Pass 3||Pass 4|
(-2171 no marks)
In November 2000, the voters of San Leandro, California approved a charter amendment by 63% to 37% requiring use of a two-round runoff or ranked-choice if no candidate won a majority of first round votes. In January 2010, the city council voted 5-2 to use RCV for its elections for mayor and three city council seats in November 2010. The mayor's race required multiple rounds of counting. Challenger Stephen H. Cassidy narrowly defeated incumbent Mayor Tony Santos in the final vote by a 50.57% to 49.43% margin.
In November 2012, San Leandro held RCV elections for three city council seats. One election was decided in first choices, and two with multiple rounds of counting. In November 2014 and November 2016, San Leandro used RCV for electing six city council seats and the mayor.
Aspen, Colorado passed RCV in November 2007 for the mayoral race and for at-large council races with two winners. In March 2009, the Aspen council adopted a unique variation of RCV for the council races. A block voting tally based on the first and second rank choices was used to determine first round support. Any candidate with initial majority support was elected. If there were not two first-round winners, there was a batch elimination of low-placing candidates to reduce the number of continuing candidates before the instant runoff. In the latter case, separate rounds of ranked-choice counting would be conducted for each council seat, with the winner of the first seat eliminated from the race for the second seat.
Aspen's first elections with RCV and the new city council system were on May 5, 2009. The number of voters was the highest in the history of Aspen elections. Mick Ireland was re-elected as mayor in the fourth round of a four-candidate race. Both city council incumbents were defeated in the two-seat RCV election in which nine candidates participated. The winners were selected after RCV tallies. 168 spoiled ballots were recast by voters alerted to errors by their optical scanning machine. The city reported 0% invalid ballots in the mayor's race and 0.9% invalid ballots in the two-seat city council elections.
The elections were close, and some Aspen observers argued that a traditional runoff system would have given more time to consider their top choices. There also was debate over how to implement audit procedures. In 2009 voters rejected an advisory measure to maintain IRV and in 2010 approved a binding amendment to return to a traditional runoff system.
The city of Basalt, Colorado adopted RCV in 2002 for mayoral elections in which there are at least three candidates. The city is ready to run ranked-choice elections, but the elections in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 did not have more than two candidates file for the mayor's office.
On November 4, 2008, voters in the town of Telluride, Colorado, passed an ordinance with 67% of the vote to adopt RCV for the next three mayoral elections, starting in November 2011 if three candidates file for the office. The system was used for the city's 2011 mayoral election. The incumbent mayor Stu Fraser was re-elected by securing a majority of first choices. In the 2015 mayoral election, Sean Murphy handily won an open seat election for mayor after trailing in first choices.
The city of Sarasota, Florida passed RCV (78%) in November 2007. While initially precluded from implementation by the lack of compatible voting machines, in 2015, new compatible machines were purchased by the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections. Implementation now hinges on the adoption of certification criteria for ranked-choice voting tabulation equipment by the Florida Department of State's Division of Elections.
In November 2010, voters in Portland, Maine, adopted a charter amendment with 52% to establish a directly elected mayor, using RCV. The first election was in November 2011. Fifteen candidates ran. The winner Michael Brennan led with 27% of first choices and won decisively in the final instant runoff voting.
In November 2015, Brennan ran for re-election against two opponents and was defeated by Ethan Strimling. 'While Strimling won a majority of votes in the first round, the Green Party affiliated candidate was able to run a serious campaign without any fingers pointing to him as a "spoiler"', fairvote.org opined.
The city of Takoma Park, Maryland adopted RCV for city council and mayoral elections in 2006 after voters approved it with 84% support in November 2005.
In January 2007 the first RCV election was held to fill a city council vacancy in a three-way race with a majority winner in the first round. Voters selected Reuben Snipper with 107 votes (52.7%), defeating Eric Hensal with 72 votes (35.5%) and Alexandra Quéré Barrionuevo with 23 votes (11.3%) and one write-in. Snipper said the possibility of using the RCV system changed the race's dynamics. "I had every reason to believe this was going to be a close race," he said. "It meant that when I knocked on a door, if a person indicated they were going to vote for another candidate, I didn't just leave right away. I tried to persuade them I would be a good second choice."
In November 2007 the mayor ran unopposed, and, out of six ward seats on the ballot, one was contested. Runoff provisions were not exercised. In November 2009, the mayor and one city councilor each faced one opponent. In November 2011, one city council race drew three candidates; it was won by a candidate securing a majority of first choices.
In July 2012, the Ward Five race again was vacant. In another three-way race, first-time candidate Jarrett Smith was elected. After securing 44% of first choices, Smith won a majority in subsequent rounds against Eric Hensal.
Cambridge, Massachusetts has been using RCV for city council and school board since 1940. It is the only location in the US that uses the multi-member version of RCV, also known as single transferable vote, which allows for more proportional representation. Six other Massachusetts towns were using the system by 1947, but all except Cambridge abandoned it due to concerns about Communists being elected.
Amherst, Massachusetts adopted RCV in 2018.
Easthampton, Massachusetts voted to adopt RCV for mayoral and city council elections in 2018 with 55% in favor.
Ann Arbor: city mayor, 1974–1976
RCV was adopted for mayoral races in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1974 after a successful ballot initiative sponsored by the local Human Rights Party. RCV was used in the 1975 mayoral election. Democratic Party nominee Albert H. Wheeler, the city's first African-American mayor, won after trailing the Republican incumbent 49% to 40% in the first round of counting, with remaining votes cast for the Human Rights Party nominee.
Eastpointe, Michigan entered a consent decree with the US Department of Justice to implement RCV for city elections for at least four years starting in 2019 to address claims of racial discrimination. Multi-winner RCV may be used, with two city council members elected at each staggered election.
The city of Ferndale, Michigan passed (68%) RCV in 2004, however the system has not been implemented.
The city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, passed (65%) RCV in November 2006. Although a citizen group filed a lawsuit in 2007 challenging the constitutionality of the system and to block its implementation, the lawsuit was dismissed in a ruling on January 13, 2009. The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously upheld this ruling in an opinion on June 11, 2009.
On November 3, 2009, the City used RCV to elect the mayor, 13 city council seats, and seven other local offices and used a multi-seat variation of RCV, the single transferable vote, for park board elections. In November 2013, it again used RCV for those same elections, including in the open seat for the 2013 Minneapolis mayoral election.
St Louis Park
St. Louis Park, Minnesota will begin using RCV in 2019 after adopting it in April 2018.
On November 4, 2009, voters in the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota, passed a charter amendment with 52% of the vote to adopt RCV for future elections for mayor and city council. In February 2011, the city council adopted rules governing the November 2011 elections. RCV elections took place for city council races, with two council races requiring multiple rounds of counting.
RCV was used in St. Paul's 2013 election for mayor and in an open seat election for city council. RCV was also used for city council elections in 2015, including one election decided after multiple rounds.
On March 4, 2008, the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, passed a referendum for RCV by a vote of 5659 to 3044 (65% for). RCV was authorized to begin with the regular municipal election in March 2010 or as soon as equipment was available at a reasonable price. Responding to a petition to force the city to implement RCV, the New Mexico Supreme Court ordered RCV to be used in municipal elections, beginning with the March 6, 2018 races for mayor and city council.
Following successful implementation of RCV in Santa Fe, the city council of Las Cruces, New Mexico voted in June 2018 to adopt RCV, beginning with the November 2019 municipal elections.
New York City
On November 5, 2019, New York City voters passed Ballot Question #1 to amend the City Charter to "Give voters the choice of ranking up to five candidates in primary and special elections for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council beginning in January 2021." In its October endorsement, The New York Times editorial board wrote: "Ranked-choice voting is a smart, tested reform that would help New Yorkers elect candidates who have support from a majority of voters. Isn’t that what democracy is all about?"
A 2006 law established that RCV would be used when judicial vacancies were created between a primary election and sixty days before a general election. In The law also established a pilot program for RCV for up to 10 cities in 2007 and up to 10 counties for 2008; to be monitored and reported to the 2007-2008 General Assembly. In November 2010, North Carolina had three RCV elections for local-level superior court judges, each with three candidates, and a statewide IRV election for a North Carolina Court of Appeals seat (with 13 candidates). The Court of Appeals race is believed to be the first time RCV has been used in any statewide general election in the United States.
Several municipalities considered participating in the RCV pilot in 2007. Cary, Hendersonville and Kinston voted to participate; Kinston dropped out because there were not enough candidates running to use RCV. Other cities declined to participate in the pilot. No North Carolina counties volunteered to participate in RCV in the 2008 elections held in conjunction with state and federal races. In August 2008 the governor signed legislation extending the pilot program for local elections to be held in 2009-2011.
There was much debate whether RCV was successful when it was used. This debate continued in the North Carolina legislature when it debated legislation to extend the pilot program. Some verified voting advocates contended that the RCV tabulation procedures used were not legal. Both advocates and opponents of the provision supported amendments to the pilot program to: ensure that the local governing body of any jurisdiction participating in the pilot must approve their participation; the jurisdiction must develop and implement voter education plans; and the University of North Carolina School of Government must approve procedures for conducting RCV elections by January 2009. After these amendments were adopted, the state House of Representatives, by a majority of 65-47, rejected an amendment designed to remove the pilot program from the legislation, and the legislation ultimately won approval by both houses.
In 2009, Hendersonville again used RCV, while the Cary Town Council voted to use a traditional runoff method. Three candidates ran for mayor in Hendersonville in November 2009; five candidates ran for two seats on the city council using a multi-seat version of RCV. All seats were filled based on first choices without the need for further counting.
The RCV pilot program was repealed by the General Assembly in 2013 as part of a sweeping voter ID bill, meaning that special judicial elections with more than two candidates would once again be decided by a simple plurality.
In October 2007 the city of Cary, North Carolina used RCV for municipal election for three council seats and for mayor. The mayor's race (with two candidates) and two of the council seats (with four and three candidates on the ballot) were won with a majority in the first round. The remaining council seat, with three candidates, went to a second round of counting; the plurality winner in the first round went on to win with 50.9% of the final round vote, amounting to 46.4% of first-round ballots cast, with 8.9% of the ballots offering no preference between the top two candidates.
|Candidate||Round 1||Round 2|
Cary used hand or machine-marked paper ballots that are read on optical scanners manufactured by ES&S. First column choices were tallied at the precinct. The second and third column choices were counted at a central location.
On November 8, 2016, voters in Benton County, Oregon, passed a charter amendment with 54.3% of the vote to enact RCV for county elections. The first use of RCV will take place in November 2020, after the state legislature in 2018 appropriated funds to enable the county to administer the elections.
On November 4, 2008, voters in the city of Memphis, Tennessee, passed a charter amendment with 71% of the vote to enact RCV for city elections. The first use of RCV has been dependent on the city's ability to administer the election: it was scheduled for 2019, however, the city council voted in 2017 to place a referendum to repeal RCV on the 2018 ballot. 63% of voters elected to keep RCV but it remains unclear when it will be implemented.
In 2018, Utah passed a law allowing municipalities to opt in to RCV voting starting with 2019 municipal elections. Six cities opted in to use RCV in 2019, West Jordan, Vineyard, Salem, Cottonwood Heights, Lehi, and Payson, but only Vineyard and Payson will be following through with the trial, with the others waiting to see how it is implemented.
Burlington mayor, 2005–2010
The city of Burlington, Vermont approved RCV for use in mayoral elections with a 64% vote in 2005. The 2006 Burlington mayoral race was decided after two rounds of tallying, and the mayoral race in 2009 was decided in three rounds. Unlike Burlington's first RCV mayoral election in 2006, the RCV winner in 2009 (VT Progressive candidate Bob Kiss) was neither the same as the plurality winner (Republican candidate Kurt Wright) nor the Condorcet winner (Democratic candidate Andy Montroll).
The results caused a post-election controversy regarding the RCV method. In late 2009, a group of several Democrats (who supported Republican Kurt Wright) led a signature drive to force a referendum on RCV. According a local columnist, the vote was a referendum on Mayor Kiss, who was a "lame duck" because of a scandal relating to Burlington Telecom and other local issues. However, in an interview with Vermont Public Radio, Mayor Kiss disputed that claim. RCV was repealed in March 2010 by a vote of 52% to 48%.
The repeal reverted the system back to a 40% rule that requires a top-two runoff if no candidate exceeds 40% of the vote. Had the 2009 election occurred under these rules, Kiss and Wright would have advanced to the runoff. If the same voters had participated in the runoff as in the first election and not changed their preferences, Kiss would have won the runoff. In 2011, an initiative effort to increase the winning threshold from the 40% plurality to a 50% majority failed.
Pierce County, 2006–2009
Pierce County, Washington, passed (53%) RCV in November 2006 for most of its county offices. Voters upheld the 2008 implementation timing with a vote of 67% in 2007 and made minor adjustments to the charter language involving ballot access and numbers of rankings. Seven RCV elections took place on November 4, 2008 and one on November 3, 2009. The introduction of RCV was marked by controversies about costs and confusion about the simultaneous introduction of the top two election system following a Supreme Court ruling that restored it after it passed statewide in 2004, but was struck down by courts in 2005. On November 3, 2009, voters repealed RCV.
Several states jurisdictions that hold runoff elections allow certain categories of absentee voters to submit ranked-choice ballots, because the interval between votes is too short for a second round of absentee voting. Ranked-choice ballots enable long-distance absentee votes to count in the runoff election if their first choice does not make the runoff. Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina used ranked-choice ballots for overseas voters in 2014 and in 2016. A city using this practice is Springfield, Illinois after voters approved it with 91% support. Louisiana uses it also for out-of-state members of the United States military and others who reside overseas.
Between 1912 and 1930, limited forms of RCV (typically with only two rankings) were implemented and subsequently repealed in the states of Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In the 1970s, it was implemented and repealed in Ann Arbor, Michigan. More recently, it was adopted and repealed in Pierce County, Washington (2006-2009); Burlington, Vermont (2005-2010); and Aspen, Colorado (2007-2010); and in North Carolina, which allowed its use in elections between 2006 and 2013.
According to FairVote, an organization advocating RCV, dozens of states have entertained RCV legislation since 2000. In 2008, Republican Vermont governor Jim Douglas vetoed legislation which would have established RCV for that state's congressional elections starting that year despite testimony in support by Vermont's independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and its Democratic U.S. House Member Peter Welch. In 2003, an amendment to the California State Constitution was proposed with wide-ranging goals of election reform, including RCV for statewide offices. In the state of Washington, an initiative seeking to adopt RCV in 2005 failed to garner enough signatures. The city of Vancouver, Washington voted in 1999 to adopt RCV and the state legislature enacted enabling legislation in 2004, but the city in 2006 chose not to exercise its option. RCV for all state and federal elections was on Alaska's statewide ballot in August 2002, when it was defeated. It also was defeated by voters in Glendale, Arizona in 2008, in Fort Collins, Colorado in 2011, and in Duluth, Minnesota in 2015.
In the U.S. Congress, the Voter Choice Act of 2005 sought to require the use of RCV for general elections for federal office. The For the People Act of 2019, passed by the House of Representatives, promotes the purchase of voting systems capable of RCV.
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