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Instant Runoff Voting

New FairVote report finds underrepresented groups benefit from RCV

A new report from FairVote finds that ranked choice voting can help voters and candidates of color

Beth Hladick
May 19, 2021

The topline: In new analysis of ranked choice voting elections, FairVote finds the reform delivers more representative outcomes compared to traditional, plurality-winner elections.

Fair representation in office — whether it be ideological, geographic, or demographic — fundamentally helps ensure laws passed serve all people.  

However, at most levels of government, elected leaders are not representative of the constituencies they serve, especially when it comes to descriptive representation.

While trends suggest that in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity, state legislatures and Congress are gradually moving toward greater parity, electoral reforms can help play a key role improving representation for underrepresented groups. 

A new FairVote report helps demonstrate ranked choice voting (which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference should their first choice not receive majority support) delivers more representative outcomes compared to traditional, plurality-winner elections.  

In a new analysis of over 1,422 candidates in 398 single-winner RCV elections across 27 jurisdictions, FairVote policy experts evaluated the impact of single-winner ranked choice voting on communities of color (from both the candidate and voter perspective). Over half of the RCV elections in question were held in districts where voters of color outnumber White voters. 

Their research particularly focuses on how candidates of different race and ethnicity consolidate support through the instant runoff process inherent and RCV, and also the way in which voters interact with a RCV ballot. 

The report’s four main conclusions find: 

  • Candidates of color benefit from the round-by-round counting process (especially those who are Black or Hispanic/Latino), indicating candidates of color build support among voters to be ranked as their second or third choice. More than half of the elections in question (53%) resulted in additional rounds of counting to identify the winner;
  • Candidates pay no penalty when they run against opponents of the same race or ethnicity: instead of dividing support (often referred to as “vote splitting”) diverse candidates experienced an increased win rate when they ran against candidates of the same racial or ethnic background; 
  • Voters of color tend to rank a higher percentage of candidates compared to White voters, indicating a willingness among communities of color to interact with the ranked ballot to express additional choices; 
  • Candidates of color see the strongest gains in districts with a majority of voters of color, including districts where the largest single bloc of voters is White, indicating candidates’ success in building broad support across their district amongst voters of different racial and ethnic groups. 

FairVote’s report adds great value in the national context of reform: as they highlight, over 9 million voting-age citizens live in jurisdictions that have either adopted or plan to implement RCV in upcoming elections. Momentum for the reform is evident in the seven municipalities that have passed RCV since last fall, and the upcoming implementation of the reform in New York City’s June primary.  

“If more candidates of color are running for office, and more communities are embracing ranked choice voting, this report’s findings indicate a national embrace of the reform is well-timed; it will even the playing field for candidates facing competitive elections, and it will empower voters to make determinations based on their values and ideals, rather than calculate electability, in the voting booth.”
— FairVote Report 

As Unite America’s executive director Nick Troiano recently opined in a Real Clear Politics piece, our system as designed often produces unrepresentative outcomes, but can be redesigned to produce better ones. 

As FairVote finds, ranked choice voting can help do just that.