All About Instant Runoff Voting

An introduction to tallying votes fairly

What is Instant Runoff Voting?

Under Instant Runoff, each voter gets one single vote, in an election electing multiple winners. All elector's votes are initially allocated to their most preferred candidate. Votes are tallied and a quota is determined.

If their candidate achieves the quota, they are elected and, in some systems, any surplus votes are transferred to other candidates in proportion to the voters' stated preferences. If more candidates than seats remain, the bottom candidate is eliminated with their votes being transferred to other candidates as determined by the voters' stated preferences. These elections and eliminations, and vote transfers if applicable, continue until there are only as many candidates as there are unfilled seats.

If no candidate is the first choice of more than half of the voters, then all votes cast for the candidate with the lowest number of first choices are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on who is ranked next on each ballot. This process is called an instant runoff.

If this does not result in any candidate receiving a majority, further rounds of redistribution occur.

This voting method is also known as single-transferrable voting (STV).


The benefits of instant runoff voting

Here are the best things about running an instant runoff vote: 

  • Instant runoff voting ensures that candidates or propositions with the most votes and broadest support win, so voters get what they want.

  • Candidates or propositions that are opposed by a majority of voters can never win an election.

  • This voting method is especially useful when there are more than two options available on a ballot, as voters aren't forced to make a binary option.

runoff examples

How does instant runoff voting work?


Although there are some unique modifiers, the instant runoff voting process generally goes as follows:

  1. Voters rank the candidates or proposition by preference on their ballots.

  2. If a candidate or proposition wins an outright majority of first-preference votes (i.e., more than 50 percent), they or it will be declared the winner.

  3. If, on the other hand, no candidates or propositions win an outright majority of first-preference votes, the option with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated.

  4. All first-preference votes for the failed candidate or proposition are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots.

  5. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any option has won an outright majority of the adjusted voters.

  6. The process is repeated until a candidate or proposition wins a majority of votes cast.

Online instant runoff voting systems

Instant runoff voting can be a fantastic way to make a decision for your organization. However, because of some of the additional complexity involved in tallying votes, you may want to consider seeking some help with the setup.

Self-administration of an instant runoff vote works well in many scenarios. However, having someone at your organization managing the process may cause some to wonder if their vote is truly fair.

For those cases, introduce an unbiased third-party into the mix and you'll have the foundation of a rock-solid voting experience.


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