Study finds Claims for Ranked Choice Voting Seriously Lacking

April 11, 2023

Passage of a Ranked Choice Voting bill in the MN Legislature is no longer a sure thing. At the end of March, the DFL chair of the Senate Election Committee abruptly cancelled a meeting to debate and pass SF1635, which included full implementation of RCV. The Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota had just published a study calling into questions a number of assertions of RCV supporters.

In fact, many of the claims made were found to be seriously lacking, according to a post in the online political blog, Checks & Balances. In addition, Senate President Bobby Joe Champion (DFL, Minneapolis) is an ardent opponent.

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) advocates believe this method encourages interest among potential voters and reduces the influence of special interest lobbies. However, upon inspection of pro-RCV advocates’ websites such as, one finds that it is the special interests that support this voting scheme.

RCV presents an alarming risk that voters’ actual will is usurped, thus disenfranchising voters. The RCV/IRV system does not ensure ‘one person, one vote’, and does not even ensure that a majority candidate will win. The League of Women Voters notes that RCV may allow a candidate to win even without a majority “if enough voters did not give any votes to their lower choices.”

RCV ballot asks for a voter's first choice among candidates and, if a voter chooses, their second choice and even their third choice. In a race with more than two candidates, if none of the candidate wins a majority of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the least votes is dropped from consideration. First-choice ballots cast for that candidate are then tallied, with the second-choice votes being added to the counts for the remaining candidates. This vote counting can go on for multiple additional rounds.

Ballots for candidates that are not "still standing" and that do not have a second-choice or third-choice marked are declared “exhausted” (meaning they are discarded). In some races studied, the percentage of “exhausted ballots” (discarded) ranged from 9.6% up to 27.1%.

“Exhausting” or discarding a voter’s ballot because she/he may not have voted for first, second, or third choice is truly disenfranchising the voter, completely excluding her/him in final rounds of an RCV election. In other words, if there are three candidates for Mayor, but the voter only wants to cast her/his ballot for one person, if that voter wants her/his ballot to be counted, she/he is forced to make a choice.

Real-world example: The 2010 race for San Francisco Board of Supervisors (City Council) went 20 rounds of tabulation. 9,608 ballots were exhausted (discarded) while the winner garnered a total of only 4,321 votes. The victor took fewer than 25% of the votes. Is it really preferable to discard over 9,000 votes and declare a winner with just over 4,000 votes, rather than go to a primary with the two candidates with the most votes?

Pew Research found that 34% of Republican voters and 32.5% of Democrats couldn’t name their own party’s nominee for Congress. Yet somehow voters are expected to have in many cases 3-5 informed choices, in order of preference?

FairVote, an advocate of RCV, found that under RCV, the “…prevalence of ranking three candidates was lowest among African-Americans, Hispanics, voters with less education and those whose first language was not English.”

Also, consider Senior voters. Seniors vote in higher proportions than other demographic groups. However, in RCV jurisdictions with greater percentages of older voters, more ballot-marking errors occur. Improperly marked ballots are then discarded. One could surmise that RCV may disproportionately disenfranchise African American, Hispanic, Senior, and those whose first language is not English voters.

Some of those jurisdictions that have since repealed RCV laws following voter outcry, and voter disenfranchisement that occurred precisely because of RCV.

• 1975—Ann Arbor, Michigan: 62% of voters repealed their RCV laws after just one year, and one election.

• 2009—Pierce County, Washington: 71% of voters overwhelmingly repealed Ranked Choice

• 2010—Burlington, Vermont: Voters repealed RCV laws

• 2010—Aspen, Colorado: 65% of voters rescinded RCV after just one year

• 2013—North Carolina: Legislature repealed RCV laws, restoring voting integrity

• 2016—California: Then Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the RCV bill passed in the California. Legislature. He stated bluntly that it was “…overly complicated and confusing, depriv(ing) voters of genuinely informed choice.”

• 2019—California: Current Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed RCV bill.: “I am concerned that it has often led to voter confusion,” he said, “and that the promise that ranked-choice voting leads to greater democracy is not necessarily fulfilled.”

RCV systems produced a different winner from the one chosen by voters on election day in 17% of the cases studied. That is not acceptable for any election, at any level. Elections in America, at all levels of government, should be clean, secure, fair, transparent, and trustworthy, and every validly registered voter has the right to have their vote counted.

Much of the information in the article was derived from an open letter written by Elizabeth Longo to the Bloomington City Council in July 2020.