Ranked Choice Voting: Our Electoral Future?


Campbell Treschuk

An absentee ballot drop off box in Fairfield, CT.

When you vote, you pick just one candidate to vote for. That’s how it works in Connecticut elections. But there are other voting systems than just that; one of them is ranked choice voting.

Ranked choice voting is a different way of voting. Instead of only voting for one candidate on your ballot, you rank the candidates in your order of preference, choice 1 being the one you’d like to see win the most, and so on. In a ranked choice voting system, however, voting for more than one candidate is optional. If you just vote for one candidate, you will have a first-choice vote and no other ones.

Using it, after ballots are counted using the ranked choice system, if one candidate has over 50% of choice 1 votes, then that candidate wins. But if no candidate has over 50%, then something happens called an ‘instant runoff.’

A sample ballot from Maine, which is the first US state to use the ranked choice voting system in a presidential election.

In an instant runoff, the candidate with the least number of choice 1 votes is eliminated from the race, but the votes of the people who voted for the eliminated person can still count. For everyone who’s choice 1 was the eliminated candidate, their votes are redistributed to the candidate they chose for choice 2. 

Then, again, if a candidate has over 50% of the votes, that candidate wins. If not, another instant runoff happens, except this time, if a person who voted for the eliminated candidate’s choice 2 was another eliminated candidate, it goes to their choice 3. This is repeated until one candidate has over 50% of the votes.

So, has ranked choice voting been used anywhere? Well, it’s actually being used in some states here in the US. According to FairVote, an organization that advocates for voting reform, one state, Maine, has used it for state legislative primaries and is using it for the first time this year in the presidential election. Maine is the first state to implement ranked choice voting in the presidential race. Three other states use ranked choice voting for presidential primaries, six more use it for military and overseas voting, and eight use it for local elections. 

Should we have ranked choice voting in Connecticut? Let’s look at its pros and cons. One advantage of ranked choice voting is that it makes voting for a third-party candidate more likely to have an impact. For example, in a normal election, there might be a third-party candidate you wanted to vote for, but you knew they wouldn’t get enough votes to win. You might not vote for them because then you’d be taking a vote away from a bigger candidate you liked, and making it more likely for their opponent to win. But with ranked choice voting you could put the third-party choice as your 1st choice, and the other candidate you liked as your 2nd choice. So you can vote for the person you want to while also essentially providing a backup.

One disadvantage of ranked choice is that it’s more complicated than normal voting, which might discourage people. However, if it is implemented people will get more used to it, and you can always just vote for one candidate.

This year in Connecticut, you can only vote for one candidate. But ranked choice voting might be in our future.