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Instant-runoff voting in the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Instant-runoff voting (IRV) is used for state and congressional (and now soon presidential) elections in Maine and for local elections in 11 cities, where it is often called ranked-choice voting. Those cities include San Francisco, California; Oakland, California; Berkeley, California; San Leandro, California; Takoma Park, Maryland; Basalt, Colorado; Telluride, Colorado; St. Paul, Minnesota; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Portland, Maine. It is pending implementation in several additional cities, including in 2019 in Las Cruces, New Mexico and St. Louis Park, Minnesota.[1] IRV is commonly used for student government and other non-governmental elections.[2] It has been proposed for presidential elections and will be used in four states in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries.[3]

Between 1912 and 1930, limited forms of IRV (typically with only two rankings[4]) were implemented and subsequently repealed in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In the 1970s, it was implemented and repealed in Ann Arbor, Michigan.[5] More recently, it was adopted and repealed in Pierce County, Washington (2006-2009);[6] Burlington, Vermont (2005-2010);[7] Aspen, Colorado (2007-2010);[8] and in North Carolina, which allowed its use in elections between 2006 and 2013.

In 2016, voters in Maine approved an initiative to become the first state to use IRV statewide in elections for governor, state legislature, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House.[9] Despite efforts by the state legislature and state supreme court to delay the implementation of IRV, a "people's veto" referendum campaign kept the IRV law in place, with the state supreme court ruling that IRV would be introduced for the primary on June 12, 2018.[10] In that election, Maine voters re-affirmed implementation of IRV by popular referendum while using IRV for the first time in primaries for the offices of governor, U.S. House, and state legislator.[11] The November general election for Maine's 2nd congressional district saw the loss of Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin in the second round instant run-off count to Democratic candidate Jared Golden.[12]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ The Alternative Vote Explained
  • ✪ Varieties of Voting Systems


Queen Lion of the Animal Kingdom is displeased. She recently introduced elections for the office of king using the first post the post voting system. While her Realm started out as a healthy democracy with many parties running candidates for king, it quickly devolved into two party rule, with the citizens not liking either one but trapped within the system because of a problem called the spoiler effect. However, one of Queen Lion’s subjects from a distant land, Wallaby, has a solution: The Alternative Vote. What’s the difference? To find out, lets follow one voter on election day, Red Squirrel, under both systems. There are five candidates running for king, two members of the big parties Gorilla and Leopard and three other candidates, Turtle, Owl and Tiger. Under first-past-the-post Red Squirrel gets a ballot where he picks just one candidate. Red Squirrel Really likes Turtle and even campaigned for him. However he knows that his new neighbor, Grey Squirrel, is voting Gorilla. And what, starts to wonder Red Squirrel, about all the other animals? Who are they going to vote for? The debates on Animal News Network only had the big parties, so Red Squirrel thinks it’s going to be a close race between Gorilla and Leopard. While he’s indifferent toward Gorilla he is deathly afraid of Leopard. Because he can only pick a single candidate, he gives his one vote to Gorilla in hopes of preventing Leopard from becoming king. This is strategic voting, and it’s a necessity under First Past the Post. But now it’s time to look at the Alternative Vote, which wallaby explains to Red Squirrel. Instead of picking one and only one candidate, he can rank them in order of his most favorite to his least. He goes into the voting both and gets the same ballot as before, but now puts Turtle as his first choice, Owl as his second and Gorilla, third. He dislikes Leopard and Tiger equally so he stops filling in his ballot and drops it in the box. At this point, Red Squirrel doesn’t care exactly what happens, he has other things on his mind and heads off. But you, dear citizen, want to know how the votes are counted so here goes: Turtle, beloved though he is with some of the citizenry, comes in last place with only 5% and he is eliminated from the race. Because the voters ranked their candidates in order, we can know what would have happened if Turtle didn’t run. Without Turtle, voters like Red Squirrel, would have picked Owl instead, so their votes are transferred to her as though Turtle was never in the race at all. This is why Alternative Vote is sometimes called Instant Runoff Voting. It’s able to simulate a bunch of elections where the least popular candidate is eliminated after each round without all the time and expense it would take to run a bunch of campaigns, one after another. The Alternative Vote method keeps eliminated the least popular candidate until someone either wins a majority or is the only one left. As no one has a majority yet, the next lowest candidate, Tiger, is eliminated. Tiger voters listed leopard as their second choice, so she gets Tiger’s votes. In the last round, Gorilla is eliminated. Gorilla voters listed Owl as their second choice, so Owl gets those votes, wins a majority, so is crowed king. The alternative vote is a better system because it produces winners that a larger number of voters agree on. While the Alternative Vote does have flaws it’s important to note that any problem AV has, first past the post shares. They’re both susceptible to gerrymandering, they aren’t proportional systems, they can’t guarantee a Condorcet winner (which math geeks hate but there isn’t time to explain here), and over time they both trend toward two main parties. That being said, Alternative Vote has a huge advantage that first past the post lacks and makes it a mathematically superior method: no spoiler effect! Imagine this election: the two big candidates are running, Gorilla and Leopard, and Leopard looks set to win 55% to 45%. But then a third party candidate, Tiger, enters. Tiger manages to convince 15% of the Leopard voters to back him. Now the results are: Under first past the post, gorilla now wins even though a majority of the voters didn’t want him. Under the Alternative Vote, because all Tiger voters put Leopard as second choice, Leopard still wins because a majority of the citizens of the animal kingdom would rather have her in charge than gorilla. With AV citizens can help support and grow smaller parties that they agree without worrying they’ll put someone they don’t like into office. After examining the differences, Queen Lion decrees that the Alternative Vote is to be the rule of the land for electing the king and everyone is happier. …well almost everyone. The two big parties can’t be complacent and need to campaign harder for their votes. This has been The Alternative Vote Explained by me C. G. P. Grey. Thank you very much for watching.


Use at presidential level

Maine, starting 2020

On August 26, 2019, the Maine legislature passed a bill adopting instant-runoff for both presidential primaries and general election.[13][14] On September 6, 2019, Governor Janet Mills allowed the bill to become law without her signature, which delayed it from taking effect until after the 2020 Democratic primary in March but puts Maine on track to be the first state to use instant-runoff voting for a presidential general election.[15] The law continues the use of the congressional district method for the allocation of electors, as Maine and Nebraska have used in recent elections. The change could potentially prevent the projection of the winner(s) of Maine's electoral votes for over a week after election day.

Democratic presidential primaries, 2020

Six states will use RCV in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries: Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, and Wyoming will use it for all primary voters, and Iowa and Nevada will for absentee voters in the caucuses.[16] Rather than eliminating candidates until a single winner is chosen, voters' choices will be reallocated until all remaining candidates have at least 15%, the threshold to receive delegates to the convention.[17]

Use at state and federal levels

Maine, 2018–present

Maine Question 5, 2016 asked Maine voters whether to implement instant-runoff voting for primary and general elections for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and state legislature, starting in 2018. It was approved by 52% to 48%, making Maine the first state to use instant-runoff voting for all such elections.[9] However, on May 23, 2017, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an advisory opinion stating that the state constitution specified that for general elections for governor and the state legislature only a plurality was required to win, which is not consistent with the use of instant-runoff voting and its multi-round vote transfers to ensure majority support.[18] A "people's veto" referendum campaign suspended the law delaying RCV. In April 2018, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled against a legal challenge seeking to prevent IRV from being used in the state's elections starting in June 2018.[19]

The legislature in June debated legislation to propose a constitutional amendment, to repeal the measure entirely, and to keep instant-runoff voting in place for elections for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and primaries. All bills failed to pass in the regularly scheduled legislative sessions filed to pass, but the legislature voted in October 2017 to delay implementation until 2021, by which time either a constitutional amendment must be adopted or the entire law would be considered repealed.[20] Maine voters then collected enough signatures to force a "people's veto" of the parts of the new law that blocked use of instant-runoff voting for primary and congressional elections. The people's veto, Question 1, passed in the June 12, 2018 election, which was also the first election that used IRV for state and federal offices, including Republican and Democratic primaries for governor, Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District, and Republican primary for House District 75.[11]

2018 Congressional election

In the November 2018 general election, though Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin led in the first round of votes of the 2nd Congressional District election by 2,171 votes, the Democratic candidate Jared Golden won with a majority of 3,509 votes in the final round count after votes for independent candidates Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar were transferred to the totals of the top two candidates.[12] As a result, Poliquin became the first incumbent to lose the 2nd Congressional District since 1916.

North Carolina, 2006–2013

A 2006 law had established that IRV would be used when judicial vacancies were created between a primary election and sixty days before a general election. In November 2010, North Carolina had three IRV elections for local-level superior court judges, each with three candidates, and a statewide IRV election for a North Carolina Court of Appeals seat (with 13 candidates). The Court of Appeals race is believed to be the first time IRV has been used in any statewide general election in the United States.[21][22]

The statewide IRV law was repealed by the General Assembly in 2013 as part of a sweeping voter ID bill, meaning that special judicial elections with more than two candidates would once again be decided by a simple plurality.[23][24]

Party primaries, caucuses, and conventions

Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, 1912-1930

In the United States, IRV election laws were first adopted in 1912. Five states (Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) used versions of IRV for party primaries, typically with each voter having two rankings and candidates needing to finish in the top two to advance to the instant runoff (also known as supplementary voting). By 1930 each jurisdiction had replaced IRV.[25][26][27]

Republican Party of Utah

After voting to authorize its use, the Republican Party of Utah used instant runoff voting in 2002, 2003 and 2004 at its statewide convention,[28] including in a contested race to nominate a governor in 2004.[29] In 2005, Republicans used repeated balloting for its statewide convention and has done so in subsequent years. Some county Republican parties like Cache County continue to use instant runoff voting at their conventions,[30] and IRV was used by Republicans to fill several state legislative vacancies in 2009-2011.[31]

Democratic Party of Virginia

In 2014, the Democratic Party of Arlington, Virginia used IRV in two "firehouse primaries" for countywide office that each drew several thousand voters, and it joined with the Democratic Party of Fairfax county that year to use IRV in a seven-candidate primary election for a special election for the House of Delegates.[32] Arlington Democrats also used the system in 2016.[33]

IRV was also used in 2014 by leaders of the Henrico County Democrats in a three-candidate special election nomination contest for the House of Delegates in December 2014 [34]

In May 2009, the Democratic Party of Charlottesville, Virginia, held its first open caucus to select its nominees for city council and sheriff, using instant runoff voting. Voter turnout was close to 1,600 voters. One of two city council incumbents was renominated and another was defeated by a challenger without the need for an instant runoff. Three candidates ran in the sheriff's race. No candidate won an initial majority. In the instant runoff, James E. Brown III defeated Mike Baird.[35]

In August 2011, the Party again used to nominate candidates. Voter turnout rose to 2,582 in the city council race for three nominations. Two candidates were nominated with a majority of the first round vote. The final nomination was determined by IRV.[36]

Independence Party of Minnesota (2004 Presidential poll)

In part to increase awareness of the voting method and to demonstrate it in a real-world situation, the Independence Party of Minnesota tested IRV by using it in a straw poll during the 2004 Minnesota caucuses.[37]

The poll allowed a none of the above option which could not be eliminated. Their rules eliminated one weakest candidate at a time, or all candidates in a tie at the bottom. They continued the elimination until only one candidate remained to confirm that this candidate had more support than NOTA.

This summary table shows the first round, and final five rounds, excluding five rounds during which 18 weak candidates were eliminated.

Candidate/Round 1 7 8 9 10 11
John Edwards
John F. Kerry
George W. Bush
Ralph Nader
Dennis Kucinich
18 others
(<10 votes each)
None of the above 32
Exhausted ballots 0
Total 453 453 453 453 453 453

Use at local and city levels


SB 212, passed by the state legislature in September 2019, is a local options bill that allows general-law municipalities and local governments to adopt IRV by public vote.[38] All current cities using it are charter cities.


The city of Berkeley, California passed (72%) instant runoff voting in 2005 to use RCV to elect the mayor, auditor and city council.[39] The city used IRV for the first time in November 2010 for elections for four city council seats and the city auditor.[40][41] Berkeley used IRV for electing its mayor and four city council seats in November 2012.[42] The city continues to use IRV, including in city elections in November 2014 and November 2016.[43]


The city of Oakland, California, passed (69%) a measure in November 2006 to adopt IRV for 18 city offices.[44][45] In November 2010, Oakland used IRV to elect its mayor, three city council races and four other local offices, with elections for mayor and council district four requiring multiple rounds of counting.[41] It used IRV in the city's remaining elected offices in 2012. IRV was again used in 2014 and 2016, including in the 2014 mayoral election in which incumbent Jean Quan was defeated by Libby Schaaf.[46]

2010 mayoral election

Oakland's 2010 mayoral election was an open-seat election in which no candidate earned more than 34% of votes in the first round. In the tally, candidates were eliminated sequentially, with three candidates far ahead in first choices. After the count of first choices, Don Perata was in first place, Jean Quan in second place, and Rebecca Kaplan in third place. They remained in that order of votes after all other candidates were eliminated and their votes re-allocated. When Kaplan was then eliminated, Quan picked up 18,864 votes from Kaplan backers while Perata was the next choice of only 6,407 Kaplan backers. As a result, Quan won a final round majority when matched against Perata, which means she was ranked ahead of Perata on a majority of ballots in which one of them received a ranking.(11% of voters did not rank either of them, making their votes exhausted by the time of the final round.)[47]

Candidate Round 1 Round 9 Round 10
Votes %(*) Transfer Votes %(*) Transfer Votes %(*)
Don Perata 40,342 33.73% +32 45,465 40.16% +6,407 51,872 49.04%
Jean Quan 29,266 24.47% +33 35,033 30.94% +18,864 53,897 50.96%
Rebecca Kaplan 25,813 21.58% +18 32,719 28.90% -32,719
Joe Tuman 14,347 12.00% +10
Marcie Hodge 2,994 2.50% +5
Terence Candell 2,315 1.94% +1
Don MacLeay 1,630 1.36% +6
Greg Harland 966 0.81% +2
Larry Lionel LL Young Jr. 933 0.78% +6
Arnold Fields 733 0.61% +5
Write-In 268 0.22% -268
Continuing Ballots 119,607 100.00% 113,217 100.00% 105,769 100.00%
Exhausted Ballots 0 +149 6,284 +7,383 13,667
Overvotes 355 +1 461 +65 526
Undervotes 2,306 2,306 2,306
Total Ballots 122,268 122,268 122,268
2012 elections

Oakland used IRV for several elections in 2012, including a citywide election for city attorney and for several seats on the city council and school board.[48] Several races were decided in an instant runoff, including the District 3 city council race where the winner trailed in first choices.[49] Of the 18 Oakland offices elected by IRV in 2010 and 2012, sixteen of the IRV winners received more votes than the previous winner had won before adoption in the last non-IRV election [50]

San Francisco

San Francisco has used IRV for its Board of Supervisors and most citywide offices nearly every November since 2004. In March 2002, an initiative backed by a broad coalition of civic organizations[51] won 55% of the vote to adopt instant runoff voting. This implementation allows the voter to rank three candidates and uses sequential candidate elimination until one candidate earns a majority of votes cast for remaining candidates.[52] A unanimous panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has upheld San Francisco's IRV law as constitutional.[53]

IRV was first used in October 2004 for YouthVOTE, an election held throughout San Francisco's public schools which elected the San Francisco school board's student delegate;[54] after that, it was used in the November 2004 supervisoral races and every November since that time for at least one election in the city. IRV has played a decisive role in at least one city election in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.[55] Exit polls[56] by San Francisco State University have shown support for the new system from all groupings of voters.

The San Francisco Department of Elections prefers the term Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) because "the word 'instant' might create an expectation that final results will be available immediately after the polls close on election night."[57] The department releases first choice totals immediately, but used to wait until more absentee ballots have arrived before running instant runoff ballot counts. That practice has since changed.

San Francisco continues to hold IRV elections as of 2017, several of which have gone to multiple rounds of counting.[58] In 2010, for example, two candidates won who were not the leaders in first choice rankings. In 2011, all three citywide elections up for election - mayor, sheriff and district attorney—were decided in IRV tallies.[59] In the wake of the November 2012 elections, sixteen of eighteen offices elected by IRV were held by people of color.[60]

Election results for 2004, 2005, and 2006 are provided in greater detail below.

2004 results

There were four elections that used the instant runoff process after no majority winner in the first round: Districts 1,5,7, and 11.

  • District 1: There were 7 candidates, reduced to 2 candidates in 4 rounds. The winner won 54% of the final round count, which amounted to 48.67% of the total first-round votes, with 9.89% of the ballots exhausted by the final round.
  • District 5: There were 22 candidates, reduced to 3 in 19 rounds, when the winner had a majority of active ballots. The winner finished with 50.6% of the final round vote against two runners up, which amounted to 37.63% of the first-round vote with 25.63% of the ballots exhausted.
  • District 7: There were 13 candidates, reduced to 2 in 11 rounds. The winner finished with 57% of the votes cast for the two active candidates in the final round. Of first round votes, this amounted to 43.72% of the first-round vote, with 23.12% exhausted ballots.
  • District 11: There were 8 candidates, reduced to 2 in 6 rounds. The winner finished with 58% of the final round vote, which amounted to 46.08% of the total first-round vote, with 21.01% of the ballots exhausted.

The District 5 results are included below as the largest election from 2004 and most round of counting. The elimination table shows the candidates reordered by their elimination. The elimination process was stable for the highest 5 candidates, holding their same plurality ranking each round despite the 19 rounds of elimination and transfer votes.

The IRV elimination process was halted when candidate Mirkarimi reached more than 50% of the active ballots, but only 37.6% of the total first-round ballots. This stopping point is pragmatic for picking a winner, but fails to show how many votes the winner had compared to only the strongest runner up candidate.

2005 results

There was one election requiring the instant runoff process to be performed, with 4 candidates and finding a 55% majority winner in two rounds.

November 8, 2005: RCV Assessor-Recorder[61]
Candidate Pass 1 Pass 2
PHIL TING 94062 47.21% 110053 55.24%
GERARDO SANDOVAL 71850 36.06% 79261 39.78%
RONALD CHUN 33294 16.71%
Eligible Ballots 199224 100% 189314 95.03%
Exhausted Ballots
(-26146 no marks)
0 0.00% 9910 4.97%
Total Ballots 199224 199224
2006 results

There were two elections that required the instant runoff process, districts 4 and 6:

  • District 4: There were 6 candidates which were reduced to 2 in 4 rounds. The winner ended with 52.5% of the final round vote for active candidates, which amounted to 42.33% of the first-round vote, with 19.38% exhausted ballots.
  • District 6: There were 8 candidates and was stopped on the second round with 4 candidates remaining. The winner had 49.99% of the total first-round votes, with 48.37% divided among the 3 runners up, and 1.64% exhausted ballots.

The detailed runoff results for district 4 are:

Race and Candidate Pass 1 Pass 2 Pass 3 Pass 4
ED JEW 5184 26.16% 5441 27.46% 6455 32.58% 8388 42.33%
RON DUDUM 5134 25.91% 5521 27.86% 6305 31.82% 7587 38.29%
JAYNRY MAK 4569 23.06% 5012 25.30% 5851 29.53%
DOUG CHAN 3236 16.33% 3414 17.23%
WRITE-IN 2 0.01%
Eligible Ballots
(-2171 no marks)
19814 100.00% 19388 97.85% 18611 93.93% 15975 80.62%
Exhausted Ballots 0 0.00% 426 2.15% 1203 6.07% 3839 19.38%
Total Ballots 19814 100% 19814 100% 19814 100% 19814 100%

San Leandro

In November 2000, the voters of San Leandro, California approved a charter amendment by 63% to 37% requiring use of a two-round runoff or IRV if no candidate won a majority of first round votes.[63] In January 2010, the city council voted 5-2 to use IRV for its elections for mayor and three city council seats in November 2010.[64] The mayor's race required multiple rounds of counting.[65] Challenger Stephen H. Cassidy narrowly defeated incumbent Mayor Tony Santos in the final vote by a 50.57% to 49.43% margin.[66]

In November 2012, San Leandro held IRV elections for three city council seats.[67] One election was decided in first choices, and two with an instant runoff.[68] In November 2014 and November 2016, San Leandro used IRV for electing six city council seats and the mayor.

The November 2018 elections will use IRV for the mayor and three council seats.[69]



Aspen, Colorado passed IRV in November 2007[70] for the mayoral race and for at-large council races with two winners. In March 2009, the Aspen council adopted a unique variation of IRV for the council races.[71] A block voting tally based on the first and second rank choices was used to determine first round support. Any candidate with initial majority support was elected. If there were not two first-round winners, there was a batch elimination of low-placing candidates to reduce the number of continuing candidates before the instant runoff. In the latter case, separate IRV runoffs would be conducted for each council seat, with the winner of the first seat eliminated from the race for the second seat.

Aspen's first elections with IRV and the new city council system were on May 5, 2009. The number of voters was the highest in the history of Aspen elections.[72] Mick Ireland was re-elected as mayor in the fourth round of a four-candidate race. Both city council incumbents were defeated in the two-seat IRV election in which nine candidates participated. The winners were selected after IRV tallies. 168 spoiled ballots were recast by voters alerted to errors by their optical scanning machine.[73] The city reported 0% invalid ballots in the mayor's race and 0.9% invalid ballots in the two-seat city council elections.[74]

The elections were close, and some Aspen observers argued that a traditional runoff system would have given more time to consider their top choices. There also was debate over how to implement audit procedures.[75] In 2009 voters rejected an advisory measure to maintain IRV[76] and in 2010 approved a binding amendment to return to a traditional runoff system.[77][78]


The city of Basalt, Colorado adopted instant runoff voting in 2002 for mayoral elections in which there are at least three candidates.[79] The city is ready to run instant runoff elections, but the elections in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 did not have more than two candidates file for the mayor's office.[80]


On November 4, 2008, voters in the town of Telluride, Colorado, passed an ordinance with 67% of the vote to adopt IRV for the next three mayoral elections, starting in November 2011 if three candidates file for the office.[81] The system was used for the city's 2011 mayoral election. The incumbent mayor Stu Fraser was re-elected by securing a majority of first choices.[82] In the 2015 mayoral election, Sean Murphy handily won an open seat election for mayor after trailing in first choices.[83]



The city of Sarasota, Florida passed IRV (78%) in November 2007. While initially precluded from implementation by the lack of compatible voting machines, in 2015 new, compatible machines were purchased by the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections. Implementation now hinges on the adoption of certification criteria for ranked-choice voting tabulation equipment by the Florida Department of State's Division of Elections.[84][85][86][87]



In November 2010, voters in Portland, Maine, adopted a charter amendment with 52% to establish a directly elected mayor, using instant runoff voting. The first election was in November 2011.[88] Fifteen candidates ran.[89] The winner Michael Brennan led with 27% of first choices and won decisively in the final instant runoff voting.[90]

In November 2015, Brennan ran for re-election against two opponents and was defeated by Ethan Strimling. 'While Strimling won a majority of votes in the first round, the Green Party affiliated candidate was able to run a serious campaign without any fingers pointing to him as a "spoiler"', opined.[91]


Takoma Park

The city of Takoma Park, Maryland adopted instant runoff voting for city council and mayoral elections in 2006 after voters approved it with 84% support in November 2005.[92]

In January 2007 the first IRV election was held to fill a city council vacancy in a three-way race with a majority winner in the first round. Voters selected Reuben Snipper with 107 votes (52.7%), defeating Eric Hensal with 72 votes (35.5%) and Alexandra Quéré Barrionuevo with 23 votes (11.3%) and one write-in. Snipper said the possibility of using the IRV system changed the race's dynamics. "I had every reason to believe this was going to be a close race," he said. "It meant that when I knocked on a door, if a person indicated they were going to vote for another candidate, I didn't just leave right away. I tried to persuade them I would be a good second choice."[93]

In November 2007 the mayor ran unopposed, and, out of six ward seats on the ballot, one was contested. Runoff provisions were not exercised.[94] In November 2009, the mayor and one city councilor each faced one opponent.[95] In November 2011, one city council race drew three candidates; it was won by a candidate securing a majority of first choices.[96]

In July 2012, the Ward Five race again was vacant. In another three-way race, first-time candidate Jarrett Smith was elected. After securing 44% of first choices, Smith won a majority in the instant runoff against Eric Hensal.[97]

IRV was used in regularly scheduled city elections in 2013, 2015 and 2017, along with a special election that required two rounds of counting.[98]



Cambridge, Massachusetts has been using IRV for city council and school board since 1940.[99] It is the only location in the US that uses the multi-member version of IRV, also known as single transferable vote, which allows for more proportional representation. Six other Massachusetts towns were using the system by 1947, but all except Cambridge abandoned it due to concerns about Communists being elected.[99]


Amherst, Massachusetts adopted IRV in 2018.[99]


Ann Arbor: city mayor, 1974-1976

IRV (called preferential voting or PV) was adopted for mayoral races in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1974 after a successful ballot initiative sponsored by the local Human Rights Party. IRV was used in the 1975 mayoral election. Democratic Party nominee Albert H. Wheeler, the city's first African-American mayor, won after trailing the Republican incumbent 49% to 40% in the first round of counting, with remaining votes cast for the Human Rights Party nominee.[100]

In April 1976, 62% of voters voted to repeal IRV in a special election.[101]


Eastpointe, Michigan entered a consent decree with the US Department of Justice to implement RCV for city elections for at least four years starting in 2019 to address claims of racial discrimination. Multi-winner RCV may be used, with two city council members elected at each staggered election.[102][103]


The city of Ferndale, Michigan passed (68%) instant runoff voting in 2004, however the system has not been implemented.[104][105]



The city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, passed (65%) instant runoff voting in November 2006.[106] Although a citizen group filed a lawsuit in 2007 challenging the constitutionality of the system and to block its implementation,[107] the lawsuit was dismissed in a ruling on January 13, 2009.[108] The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously upheld this ruling in an opinion[109] on June 11, 2009.[110]

On November 3, 2009, the City used instant runoff voting, now commonly known in Minneapolis as ranked-choice voting, to elect the mayor, 13 city council seats and seven other local offices and used a multi-seat variation of IRV, the single transferable vote, for park board elections.[111] In November 2013, it again used IRV for those same elections, including in the open seat Minneapolis mayoral election, 2013[112]

St Louis Park

St. Louis Park, Minnesota will being using RCV in 2019 after adopting it in April 2018.[113]

Saint Paul

On November 4, 2009, voters in the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota, passed a charter amendment with 52% of the vote to adopt IRV for future elections for mayor and city council.[114] In February 2011, the city council adopted rules governing the November 2011 elections.[115] IRV elections took place for city council races, with two council races requiring multiple rounds of counting.[116]

IRV was used in St. Paul's 2013 election for mayor and in an open seat election for city council.[43] IRV also was used for city council elections in 2015, including one election decided in an instant runoff.[91]

New Mexico

Santa Fe

On March 4, 2008, the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, passed a referendum for IRV (called Ranked Choice voting) by a vote of 5659 to 3044 (65% for).[117] Ranked-choice voting was authorized to begin with the regular municipal election in March 2010 or as soon as equipment was available at a reasonable price.[118] Responding to a petition to force the city to implement RCV, the New Mexico Supreme Court ordered RCV to be used in municipal elections, beginning with the March 6, 2018, races for mayor and city council.[119]

Las Cruces

Following successful implementation of RCV in Santa Fe, the city council of Las Cruces, New Mexico voted in June 2018 to adopt RCV, beginning with the November 2019 municipal elections.[120]

North Carolina

A 2006 law established that IRV would be used when judicial vacancies were created between a primary election and sixty days before a general election. In The law also established a pilot program for instant runoff voting in the form of batch-elimination IRV for up to 10 cities in 2007 and up to 10 counties for 2008; to be monitored and reported to the 2007-2008 General Assembly.[121] In November 2010, North Carolina had three IRV elections for local-level superior court judges, each with three candidates, and a statewide IRV election for a North Carolina Court of Appeals seat (with 13 candidates). The Court of Appeals race is believed to be the first time IRV has been used in any statewide general election in the United States.[21][22]

Several municipalities considered participating in the IRV pilot in 2007. Cary, Hendersonville and Kinston voted to participate; Kinston dropped out because there were not enough candidates running to use IRV. Other cities declined to participate in the pilot. No NC counties volunteered to pilot IRV in 2008 elections held in conjunction with state and federal races.[122] In August 2008 the governor signed legislation extending the pilot program for local elections to be held in 2009-2011.[123]

There was much debate whether IRV was successful when it was used.[124] This debate continued in the North Carolina legislature when it debated legislation to extend the pilot program.[125] Some verified voting advocates contended that the IRV tabulation procedures used were not legal.[126] Both advocates and opponents of the provision supported amendments to the pilot program to: ensure that the local governing body of any jurisdiction participating in the pilot must approve their participation; the jurisdiction must develop and implement voter education plans; and the UNC School of Government by January 2009 must approve procedures for conducting IRV elections. After these amendments were adopted, the state House of Representatives, by a majority of 65-47, rejected an amendment designed to remove the pilot program from the legislation, and the legislation ultimately won approval by both houses.[127]

In 2009 Hendersonville again used IRV,[128] while the Cary Town Council voted to use a traditional runoff method.[129] Three candidates ran for mayor in Hendersonville in November 2009; five candidates ran for two seats on the city council using a multi-seat version of IRV.[130] All seats were filled based on first choices without the need for instant runoffs.[131]

In 2011, Hendersonville's city council unanimously voted to use IRV a third time, although ultimately not enough candidates filed for office to trigger the need for the system.[132]

The IRV pilot program was repealed by the General Assembly in 2013 as part of a sweeping voter ID bill, meaning that special judicial elections with more than two candidates would once again be decided by a simple plurality.[23][24]


In October 2007 the city of Cary, North Carolina used batch-elimination IRV for municipal election for three council seats and for mayor.[133] The mayor's race (with two candidates) and two of the council seats (with four and three candidates on the ballot) were won with a majority in the first round. The remaining council seat, with three candidates, went to a second round of counting under the instant runoff system; the plurality winner in the first round went on to win with 50.9% of the final round vote, amounting to 46.4% of first-round ballots cast, with 8.9% of the ballots offering no preference between the top two candidates.[134]

Candidate Round 1 Round 2
Don Frantz 1151 (38.1%) 1401 (46.4%)
Vickie Maxwell 1075 (35.6%) 1353 (44.8%)
Nels Roseland 793 (26.2%) --
Other 3 (0.0%) --
Exhausted ballots -- 268 (8.9%)
Total 3022 (100%) 3022 (100%)

Cary used hand or machine-marked paper ballots that are read on optical scanners manufactured by ES&S. First column choices were tallied at the precinct. The second and third column choices were counted at a central location.


Benton County

On November 8, 2016, voters in Benton County, Oregon, passed a charter amendment with 54.3% of the vote to enact IRV for county elections.[135] The first use of IRV will take place in November 2020, after the state legislature in 2018 appropriated funds to enable the county to administer the elections.[136]



On November 4, 2008, voters in the city of Memphis, Tennessee, passed a charter amendment with 71% of the vote to enact IRV for city elections.[137] The first use of IRV has been dependent on the city's ability to administer the election: it was scheduled for 2019, however, the city council voted in 2017 to place a referendum to repeal IRV on the 2018 ballot.[138] 63% of voters elected to keep IRV but it remains unclear when it will be implemented.[139]


In 2018, Utah passed a law allowing municipalities to opt in to IRV voting starting with 2019 municipal elections.[99] Six cities opted in to use RCV in 2019, West Jordan, Vineyard, Salem, Cottonwood Heights, Lehi, and Payson,[140] but only Vineyard and Payson will be following through with the trial, with the others waiting to see how it is implemented.[141]


Burlington mayor, 2005-2010

The city of Burlington, Vermont approved IRV for use in mayoral elections with a 64% vote in 2005.[142] The 2006 Burlington mayoral race was decided after two rounds of IRV tallying, and the mayoral race in 2009 was decided in three rounds. Unlike Burlington's first IRV mayoral election in 2006, the IRV winner in 2009 (VT Progressive candidate Bob Kiss) was neither the same as the plurality winner (Republican candidate Kurt Wright) nor the Condorcet winner (Democratic candidate Andy Montroll).[143][144]

The results caused a post-election controversy regarding the IRV method.[145] In late 2009, a group of several Democrats (who supported Republican Kurt Wright) led a signature drive to force a referendum on IRV.[146] According a local columnist, the vote was a referendum on Mayor Kiss, who was a "lame duck" because of a scandal relating to Burlington Telecom and other local issues.[147] However, in an interview with Vermont Public Radio, Mayor Kiss disputed that claim.[148] IRV was repealed in March 2010 by a vote of 52% to 48%.[149][150][151]

The repeal reverted the system back to a 40% rule that requires a top-two runoff if no candidate exceeds 40% of the vote. Had the 2009 election occurred under these rules, Kiss and Wright would have advanced to the runoff. If the same voters had participated in the runoff as in the first election and not changed their preferences, Kiss would have won the runoff.[152] In 2011, an initiative effort to increase the winning threshold from the 40% plurality to a 50% majority failed.


Pierce County, 2006-2009

Pierce County, Washington, passed (53%) instant runoff voting in November 2006 for most of its county offices.[153] Voters upheld the 2008 implementation timing with a vote of 67% in 2007 and made minor adjustments to the charter language involving ballot access and numbers of rankings.[154] Seven instant runoff voting elections took place on November 4, 2008 and one on November 3, 2009.[155] The introduction of IRV was marked by controversies about costs and confusion about the simultaneous introduction of the top two election system following a Supreme Court ruling that restored it after it passed statewide in 2004, but was struck down by courts in 2005. On November 3, 2009, voters repealed IRV.[156]

Absentee use

Several states jurisdictions that hold runoff elections allow certain categories of absentee voters to submit IRV ballots, because the interval between votes is too short for a second round of absentee voting. IRV ballots enable long-distance absentee votes to count in the second (general) election round if their first choice does not make the runoff. Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina used IRV ballots for overseas voters in 2014 and in 2016.[157] A city using this practice is Springfield, Illinois after voters approved it with 91%.[158] Louisiana uses it also for out-of-state members of the United States military and others who reside overseas.[159]

Implementations rejected

Between 1912 and 1930, limited forms of IRV (typically with only two rankings[4]) were implemented and subsequently repealed in the states of Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In the 1970s, it was implemented and repealed in Ann Arbor, Michigan.[5] More recently, it was adopted and repealed in Pierce County, Washington (2006-2009);[6] Burlington, Vermont (2005-2010);[7] and Aspen, Colorado (2007-2010);[8] and in North Carolina, which allowed its use in elections between 2006 and 2013.

According to FairVote, an organization advocating IRV, dozens of states have entertained instant runoff voting legislation since 2000. In 2008, Republican Vermont governor Jim Douglas vetoed legislation which would have established instant runoff voting for that state's congressional elections starting that year[160] despite testimony in support by Vermont's independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders[161] and its Democratic U.S. House Member Peter Welch.[162] In 2003, an amendment to the California State Constitution was proposed with wide-ranging goals of election reform, including instant runoff voting for statewide offices.[163] In the state of Washington, an initiative seeking to adopt instant runoff voting in 2005 failed to garner enough signatures. The city of Vancouver, Washington voted in 1999 to adopt instant runoff voting and the state legislature enacted enabling legislation in 2004, but the city in 2006 chose not to exercise its option. Instant runoff voting for all state and federal elections was on Alaska's statewide ballot in August 2002, when it was defeated. It also was defeated by voters in Glendale, Arizona, in 2008, in Fort Collins, Colorado in 2011, and in Duluth, Minnesota in 2015.[citation needed]

In the U.S. Congress, the Voter Choice Act of 2005[164] sought to require the use of instant runoff voting for general elections for federal office. The For the People Act of 2019, passed by the House of Representatives, promotes the purchase of voting systems capable of IRV.[165]


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External links

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