How to use ranked-choice voting


In less than three weeks, or earlier if voting by absentee, you will be taking part in the 2020 election.

You will be voting using a ranked-choice voting (RCV) system. 

For many people, it will be confusing. 

Mainers will use RCV to decide federal races, including U.S. Senate and Congress. For the first time in the United States, they will use RCV in the presidential race.

For the 72,512 Maine citizens who petitioned to let voters decide whether or not it is a good idea in the presidential race, we understand your frustration.

That is a long story and a debate for another day.

In this address, I will briefly explain how to cast your vote in a RCV system.

Under this system, rather than make a single mark on your ballot for the one candidate you choose, voters instead can rank each candidate in order of their preference.

With RCV, when no candidate receives at least 50% of the vote, another round of vote counting is done after removing the candidate who received the lowest number of votes.

In this round, if a voter’s first choice is eliminated, the second choice they marked on their ballot is counted as their first choice. The counting process is repeated in this fashion until a candidate receives more than 50% of the votes.

There are a number of ways you can fill out your RCV ballot to ensure your vote is counted. Here are some examples:

Vote for the same one candidate across the ballot in each round

You can vote for the same candidate across the board in every round. This will have the same effect as voting for one candidate in just the first round, but some voters want to make sure their ballot is “complete” and this is an acceptable way to do so.

Vote for just one candidate in the first round (bullet vote)

If you just vote for one candidate in the first round, your vote will be counted in round one and following RCV rounds as long as your candidate is still in the running.

Your round one vote essentially “sticks” to that candidate in following rounds.

Rank your choices all the way, or part of the way

You can rank your choices in as many rounds as you like. You can rank two, three, four or as many candidates as there are. Just be careful not to vote for two people in the same round (vertical column).

You can rank all of the candidates, or just some of the candidates, i.e. Round 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

There are also some ways you should absolutely not fill out a ranked-choice voting ballot (invalid ballots).

Do not vote for more than one candidate in a single round (vertical column)

Just like with an ordinary ballot, do not vote for more than one candidate in any round. Votes for more than one candidate in round one, or in subsequent rounds, will be considered “overvotes” and will be thrown out.

If you accidentally mark two candidates in the same column, notify the poll workers that you have spoiled your ballot and need a new one.

Be careful if you skip rounds in ranking, especially at the beginning

Skipping rounds and then voting in later rounds could get your vote thrown out.

The rules of RCV technically allow you to skip a round, but leaving two consecutive rounds blank will result in your ballot being discarded. If you decide to rank, simply be thorough.


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