Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV), also called Instant-Runoff Voting (IRV), is a complex election process where voters can rank multiple candidates for a single office.
A note about primaries
RCV legislation sometimes includes a change to a top-four or top-five “jungle primary,” where voters aligned with political parties do not get to choose their own party’s nominee. While often coupled with the change to RCV for the general election, the top-four or top-five primary process does not actually use RCV.
How RCV works
In an RCV election, if one candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, it works like any other election (the rankings are irrelevant). If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, then the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated. Ballots that ranked the eliminated candidate first are “adjusted” in one of two ways:
- If they ranked other candidates, their next-ranked candidate is moved up to get their first-place vote.
- If they did not rank other candidates, their ballot is eliminated (as if they had not voted at all).
This process is repeated until one candidate has a majority of the remaining votes. It relies on precise data entry and well-programmed computers—with more than just a few ballots, the RCV process is entirely dependent on computers to run the multiple rounds of adjustments and retabulation. (This is an example of the computer settings instructions for San Francisco.)
Not all RCV is the same
Note that the above is a description of the most commonly used RCV process. Laws and even election officials can alter this process, potentially changing the outcomes, such as by eliminating more than one candidate at once or changing how they treat over votes (giving more than one candidate the same ranking) or undervotes (skipping a ranking, for example, ranking candidates first, second, but then fourth).