This FAQ is adapted from the Better Democracy for Los Angeles website, at http://irvinla.org/. Please note that Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) are two different terms for the same system.
What is ranked choice voting (RCV) / instant runoff voting (IRV)?
Ranked choice voting (RCV) is an electoral method that elects officeholders with a majority of the vote in a single election. RCV eliminates the need for a separate runoff election. Voters rank their favorite candidates in order of choice (1, 2, 3) on their ballot, and the runoff rankings are used to determine the majority winner instantly.
How is RCV different from what Kansas City currently uses for local elections?
Currently Kansas City uses a two-round runoff system to elect its local officeholders. A primary is held in February, followed by the general election between the top two finishers in March. This system of two separate elections costs taxpayers millions of dollars, and often leads to extremely low voter turnout – only 18% in the February 2007 primary. With RCV, candidates win by gaining a majority of voter support, but RCV produces final results in a single election, eliminating the need for the second election.
Could using RCV boost voter turnout?
Yes. With the current system, voter participation is usually very low: only 18.8 percent of registered voters participated in the February 2007 primary, followed by 27 percent turnout in the March runoff. Turnout was even lower in 2003, with only 9.6 percent voting in the primary, and 18.5 percent in the general. With RCV, voters, candidates, and organizations can focus all their resources and efforts on a single election, thereby maximizing voter participation. Having one election instead of two prevents voter fatigue that contributes to low turnout.
Can RCV lead to cost savings?
Yes. RCV combines the primary and runoff elections into one election, getting rid of the high costs of administering the second election. With RCV, all these unnecessary costs for a second election will be saved.
How does ranked choice voting work?
Ranked choice voting acts like a series of runoff elections. If any candidate receives a majority of the first choice rankings, that candidate is elected. If not, the last place candidate is defeated, just as in a runoff election, and all ballots are counted again, but this time each ballot cast for the defeated candidate counts for the next-choice candidate listed on each of those ballots. This process of eliminating the last place candidate and recounting the ballots continues until one candidate receives a majority of the vote. You can see a short interactive mini-movie of how RCV will work in KC, including how voters rank their ballots and how the ballots are counted, on the web at https://rankit.vote/.
Who will be elected in Kansas City using ranked choice voting?
RCV would be used to elect the mayor and city council members.
How can we bring RCV to Kansas City?
To bring RCV to Kansas City, voters need to approve an amendment to the City Charter. But first this amendment has to be placed on the ballot, which requires either approval by a majority of the KC City Council, OR a voter initiative receiving signatures from 10 percent of registered voters.
Right now, the City Council is studying RCV and how it will benefit our city and community.
Is ranked choice voting too confusing for voters?
Not at all. Many studies have examined if RCV elections used in various jurisdictions were confusing for voters. All the studies have found that voters handle ranking their ballots with ease. San Francisco State University’s Public Research Institute has conducted two exit poll studies and found that 87% of those who voted in San Francisco’s RCV elections felt they understood RCV – results that cut across all ethnic, age and gender lines. 60% of voters used all three of their rankings, and 61% preferred RCV over San Francisco’s old two round runoff system. Another poll by the Asian Law Caucus found similar results. The results undoubtedly were so positive because the role for voters is very simple—just rank as many of your favorite candidates as you wish, 1, 2, 3. It’s like going to Baskin Robbins 31 flavors of ice cream, and picking your top three flavors. We are used to ranking things all the time, from our favorite sports teams to our favorite videos and foods, so ranking candidates is easy.
Is RCV a fair and easy system for voters protected under the Voting Rights Act?
Yes. According to the San Francisco State studies, 87% of all voters said that they understood RCV. African Americans, Latinos, and Asians were the most likely groups to rank three candidates (the maximum possible). Latinos were most likely to say that ranking was easy or very easy (58%), and Latino voters had the smallest percentage of voters indicating some lack of understanding of the system, only 10%, and only 16% of African-Americans. Spanish first-language speakers had the smallest percentage of voters indicating some lack of understanding, only 9% versus 12% for English speakers. Voters whose first language was Spanish were considerably more likely than others to say that ranking candidates was easy or very easy, with almost two-thirds giving that response. Another exit poll by the Asian Law Caucus found that Asians overwhelmingly favored RCV.
Can RCV have an impact on the awful mudslinging and negative campaigning?
Yes. In recent KC elections, voters have been bombarded with nasty “hit” pieces, personal attacks and TV ads telling them the worst about their political leaders. In contrast, RCV discourages such mudslinging because candidates know they may need the second or third ranking from other candidates’ supporters to win. The result is a major shift in traditional campaign strategy. Instead of mudslinging, candidates have an incentive to run civil, issues-based campaigns and find common ground. Covering San Francisco’s RCV elections, one New York Times headline read: "New Runoff System in San Francisco Has the Rival Candidates Cooperating." Such coalition-building is certain to benefit the eventual winner when governing.
Will RCV prevent spoilers and vote-splitting?
Yes. With the current system, multiple candidates from the same constituency can “split” the vote, resulting in those candidates cancelling each other out. RCV’s ranked ballots allow voters to rank their first, second and third choices and to participate in coalitions among like-minded candidates, avoiding such vote-splitting.
What can I do to help?
1. Call or write your Councilmember and Mayor Quinton Lucas. Tell our leaders to do their part to bring RCV to KC.
2. Spread the word. Tell your friends, family, and colleagues about RCV. When people understand how RCV works, they tend to support it. Other effective means are to get organizations you are a part of to support RCV, or write letters to the editor to local papers and newsletters.
3. Volunteer your time. RCV will NOT be adopted in KC without your help. Please contact us at 816-753-2057 (Rachel MacNair) or firstname.lastname@example.org.