All About Ranked Choice Voting

An introduction to different variations of ranked choice voting

What is ranked choice voting?

Everyone has different outcomes to consider when making an important decision. Some may need to consider what is at stake for specific shareholders or constituents, while others will need to consider how to narrow several resolutions down to just the best option. 

How you will make a group decision ultimately comes down to the method in which voters will participate and how their ballot will be counted.

In a ranked-choice vote, voters choose amongst multiple options and order them by preference. This differs from a first-past-the-post vote, which gives voters only one vote per option.

For example, ranked-choice voting methods not only determine the most preferred option, but also the second and third-best choices.

See the specific voting technologies that will help you reach a decision. 

How is it different from other methods of voting?


Voting methods are different approaches for organizations to conduct, collect, or count ballots in a voting event.

A majority of votes typically take place within one of two popular methods: ranked choice or first-past-the-post.

In a first-past-the-post voting setup, the first resolution to meet a certain criteria (e.g., a majority vote) is declared the winner. While this system does not provide the same flexibility or options that a ranked-choice voting system offers, it is often a simpler and faster way of reaching a consensus.

In a ranked vote, voters order choices in a hierarchy on the ordinal scale: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. While this method may take more time to count and determine results, it can often give a greater representation of what most voters want.

raising hands

What are ranked-choice voting methods?


Single Transferable Vote (STV)

How does it work?

An STV system is designed to achieve proportional representation through ranked voting in situations such as multi-seat organizations or voting districts. Under STV, each voter gets one single vote in an election electing multiple winners.

All voters' choices are initially allocated to their most preferred candidate. Votes are totaled and a quota (the number of votes required to win a seat) is determined. If a candidate achieves the quota, they are elected.

In some STV 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. 


Who is it for?

Advocates for STV say that this method enables votes to be cast for individual candidates rather than for parties and party machine-controlled party lists, and – compared to first-past-the-post voting – reduces "wasted" votes (votes being wasted on losers and surplus votes being wasted on sure winners) by transferring them to other preferred candidates.

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 until a winner is decided.

Bucklin Voting

How does it work?

Voters are allowed to rank preference ballots (first, second, third, etc.). First choice votes are first counted. If one candidate has a majority, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the second choice is added to the first choices. 

If a candidate with a majority vote is found, the winner is the candidate with the greatest share of the total votes. Lower rankings are added as needed. 

A majority is determined based on the number of valid ballots. Since, after the first round, there may be more votes cast than voters, it is possible for more than one candidate to have majority support.


Who is it for?

This particular method would be useful in situations where multiple candidates or positions can be accepted. For example, if an organization does not cap the number of members that may serve on its board, then voters may find several candidates suitable to join simultaneously. 

Pairwise Comparison and Condorcet Voting

How does it work?

Pairwise comparison generally is any process of comparing entities in pairs to judge which of each entity is preferred or has a greater amount of some quantitative property, or whether or not the two entities are identical.

Condorcet voting is the application of a Pairwise Comparison. The Condorcet method is one of several election methods that elect the candidate that wins a majority of the vote in every pairing of head-to-head elections against each of the other candidates, whenever there is such a candidate. 

A candidate with this property, the pairwise champion, is formally called the Condorcet winner. A Condorcet winner might not always exist in a particular election because the preference of a group of voters selecting from more than two options can possibly be cyclic — that is, it is possible that each candidate has an opponent that defeats them in a two-candidate contest.


Who is it for?

This method may be best applied in situations where someone would need to see how a candidate would fare in a head-to-head matchup with an opponent, like in the context of a poll or survey.

Borda Count

How does it work?

Voters rank options or candidates in order of preference. The Borda count determines the outcome of a debate or the winner of an election by giving each candidate, for each ballot, a number of points corresponding to the number of candidates ranked lower. Once all votes have been counted the option or candidate with the most points is the winner. 

The Borda count is intended to elect broadly acceptable options or candidates, rather than those preferred by a majority, and so is often described as a consensus-based voting system rather than a majoritarian one.

Who is it for?

While some of the other methods listed here rely on determining the preferred option of the majority of voters, this method focuses on finding the option chosen by a plurality of voters. 

This can be useful in situations where no one option may stand out as a clear winner amongst the voter base. Therefore, discovering which option is preferred by the most voters in total may help to reach a decision.


What are voting modifiers?



Voting modifiers are variations on the voting process may be added in conjunction with other a ranked choice vote. For example, a plurality vote can be taken anonymously or with added importance to specific votes.

Public Voting and Referendums

Public voting or a referendum is a method in which an individual’s vote is cast openly so everyone can see how they voted. A public vote may be the easiest to conduct and the most transparent way for a group to come to a decision, as all voters are accounted for and the need for developing and processing secret ballots is made unnecessary.

However, a public vote is also potentially at-risk of outside interference. Whether it's something as innocent as peer pressure or more scandalous like blackmail, it is difficult to analyze any public vote without considering potential biases.

Public voting is commonly seen in representative governance models when new policies or laws are discussed. A public vote holds the representative accountable to their decisions, as their constituents can review voting records and determine if the representative is working in the best interests of the group.

A public vote can also be useful in situations where a vote must be conducted quickly and cheaply. Without the time or resources to organize a formal voting event, a simple show of hands or a calling of “Yea” or “Nay” can help a group reach a swift consensus.

Anonymous Voting

Anonymous voting is a modifier in which an individual’s vote is hidden in a way that they cannot be identified by their ballot. Anonymous voting may be applied to any voting event where the organization seeks an impartial, unbiased outcome, as nameless ballots discourage attempts to use peer pressure or other external influences to sway voters. 

There are several variations of anonymous voting:

  • In a fully anonymous or secret vote, no one knows how an individual voted except the voter themself. Not even vote administrators have access to any information besides the results of the vote. This is useful for situations where a pure blind result is needed in making a decision. However, the lack of a voter audit gives administrators less information to analyze when determining the results, e.g., demographics, voting trends. 

  • In a semi-anonymous vote, specific administrators may audit records that show how individuals voted. Administrators with access to voting records may be limited to viewing only specific segments of information, such as demographic reports of voters. These reports can be useful in understanding how different population segments vote or identifying voting trends. A third-party administrator may conduct a vote for an organization and share the results while keeping how individuals voted a secret. This makes the process look unbiased and fair to the voter base.

Anonymous voting is widely used in voting events, whether it is for a simple policy decision or for electing a president of a country. It is popular amongst voters as well, as the pressure to conform to certain viewpoints is lifted once they step behind the curtain. 

Proxy/Representative Voting

Proxy or representative voting is a form of voting in which an individual may give their voting power to a representative to vote on their behalf. The representative may be another member of the same organization or an external entity. 

A great example of this type of voting would come in the form of the American election system. Constituents from a community (district, county, or state) come together and vote on one candidate to represent their interests through political action. 

Some organizations will require a proxy to vote in the event a registered voter will not be able to cast a ballot. This ensures that all voices are heard and no one is left out of the process, for whatever reasons. 

Weighted Voting

Weighted voting can exist in a legislative body in which each elected representative has a different voting power (weighted vote) as determined by the total number of citizens who voted for them in the general election. Weighted voting exists in an electoral system in which not all voters have the same amount of influence over the outcome of an election. Instead, votes of different voters are given different weights during the election.

Weighted voting can be applied with other voting methods when certain voters have more say in a situation. For example, in a vote amongst shareholders of a corporation, members with more shares may have a weighted vote in their favor over those with fewer shares. 


Planning for success

No matter what you are voting on, the method in which you vote and how your ballot is counted will directly influence an important decision.

Organizations must be careful and deliberate when selecting a voting method to get the best results.


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