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Voatz mobile voting app screenshot

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and Voatz

Buzz has been building in various corners of the United States around the concept of “Ranked Choice Voting”.

What is it? How does it work? And how is it different from the current system where you vote for your favorite candidate, hope they win, and prepare for your supposed “worst”?

At Voatz, we’re fascinated by varying methods for voting and mostly, working to ensure that the systems used to implement them are user-friendly, accessible and accurate when it comes to tabulating the mathematical calculations.


What is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)?

To you, the voter, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a relatively simple change to the way you vote. In the current system, you pick one candidate. With RCV, you rank candidates in the order you prefer them (first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on).

^how it would look to vote with RCV in ranking your first, second, and third choices

How does the math work?

After voters go to the polls, rank their choices and submit their ballots, here’s what happens:

  1. On Election Night, all ballots are counted only for the voters’ first choices.
  2. If a candidate receives an outright majority, they win, just like today.
  3. Unlike today, if no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. If that was your first choice, your vote instantly counts for your next choice.
  4. This process repeats, with last-place candidates getting eliminated and voters who selected that candidate having their ballots counted for their second (or third, or fourth…) ranked choice, until one candidate reaches a majority and wins.
^sample RCV tabulation, with the first round of “instant runoff”, where in this case, the lowest-percentage candidate with 8% gets eliminated and those voters who selected that candidate have their votes allocated to their second choice candidates; in this case, this process continues until a winner reaches 50%


In short, your vote counts for your second choice only if your first choice has been eliminated (i.e. this is a case of “instant runoff”). Ultimately, if your first choice doesn’t win, rather than not having a voice thereafter, your ballot still gets counted for your second, third or fourth choices, and so on.


^sample of how RCV tabulation looks with four rounds of instant runoff

With multi-seat elections, ballots can grow lengthy, where you rank among many candidates for many seats (i.e. 10 open seats, 30 candidates). In the case of many candidates and many seats, you would rank among the many candidates for those many seats (i.e. pull your favorites from the 30 candidates and rank them among the 10 ranked seats).

^sample of a multi-choice ballot with 5 open seats and, in this case, 9 candidates, with ability to add multiple write-ins

The challenges to RCV include the need, often, for particular machines that can administer the vote and tabulate results. Some machines support only up to three rankings, which might not be enough for a crowded election, and most machines require rankings downloaded onto a memory card and transmitted to a central counting location, where files from each precinct must be aggregated before counting.

Lastly, for the voter, ballots can look like the one above, which can grow complex with more candidates and more open seats.


How does it work with Voatz?

Voatz has built-in capacity for RCV and instant tabulation, with emphasis on designing for maximized usability and seamless results.

Once a voter is verified to vote in the election, they access the ballot, rank their choices, and cast their ballot either on their smartphone or the Voatz tablet application.

^Voatz RCV interface 

Benefits to using Voatz for RCV include:

  • Voters use widely-available consumer hardware (smartphone and/or tablet)
  • Secure verification and ease-of-use for voters to vote with their smartphones
  • Built-in support for Ranked Choice Voting at no additional cost
  • Immediately intuitive drag-and-drop interface
  • Device submits the rankings directly to the location where they will be tabulated (no need to transmit)
  • Auditable results

Interested in using Voatz for RCV in your upcoming election? We’d love to hear from you.



Ranked Choice Voting Minnesota
RCV Maine
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