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Ranked-Choice Voting: Capturing Voter Preferences


Published November 3, 2022

Adopting ranked-choice voting allows voter preferences to be more accurately reflected in elections. Currently, votes on mail-in ballots cast for candidates who drop out before election day are not counted. Ranked-choice voting resolves this issue and is popular in states where it is implemented.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some potential downsides to ranked-choice voting?
  2. Would ranked-choice voting change how politicians campaign? If so, how?

Additional Resources:

  • Read “Here’s a Voting System That Would Have Counted All of California’s Super Tuesday Votes,” by L. Sandy Maisel and David W. Brady via CalMatters. Available here.
  • Watch “By Constitutional Design: The Electoral College,” on PolicyEd. Available here.
  • Listen to “Saints, Sinners, and Salvageables: ‘The Big Truth’ vs. ‘The ‘Big Lie,’” with Benjamin Ginsberg, David Becker, and Major Garrett. Available here.
View Transcript

There is more than one way to cast your ballot. Most voters in the United States cast their vote for one candidate out of many. 

But what if someone votes early or through the mail, and their preferred candidate drops out?

Under a system called “ranked-choice voting,” their second and third choices would still be counted.

In essence, voters would no longer have to worry about “wasting” a vote and could instead pick the candidates they like most.

For example, in California’s 2020 presidential primary, more than a third of the voters who opted for mail-in ballots chose candidates that dropped out before Super Tuesday’s deadline, meaning their votes didn’t go to anyone.  

Senator Bernie Sanders beat then-candidate Joe Biden in California’s primary. However, a recent survey shows that most supporters of Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and other candidates likely would have chosen Biden over Sanders next, resulting in Biden winning California under a ranked-choice voting system.  

Ranked voter choice is not a radical new idea. The state of Maine uses it and exit polls show that most voters prefer it over the current system. 

As mail-in and early voting increases in popularity, ranked-choice voting would ensure voters’ preferences are reflected in the final tallies.