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Ranked-choice voting has come to mean a range of electoral systems. Broadly, they can facilitate (a) majority winners in single-seat districts, (b) majority rule with minority representation in multi-seat districts, or (c) majority sweeps in multi-seat districts. Further, such systems can combine with rules to encourage/discourage slate voting. This article describes five major versions used, abandoned, and/or proposed for US public elections: alternative vote, single transferable vote, block-preferential voting, the bottoms-up system, and alternative vote with numbered posts. It then considers each from the perspective of a 'political strategist.' Simple models of voting (one with two parties, another with three) draw attention to real-world strategic issues: effects on minority representation, importance of party cues, and reasons for the political strategist to care about how voters rank choices. Unsurprisingly, different rules produce different outcomes with the same sets of ballots. Specific problems from the strategist's perspective are: 'majority reversal,' serving 'two masters,' and undisciplined third-party voters (or 'pure' independents). Some of these stem from well-known phenomena, e.g., ranking truncation and 'vote leakage.' The article also alludes to 'vote-management' tactics, i.e., rationing nominations and ensuring even distributions of first-choice votes. Illustrative examples come from American history and comparative politics. A running theme is the two-pronged failure of the Progressive Era reform wave: with respect to minority representation, then ranked voting's durability.
Politics and Governance (ISSN: 2183–2463)
2021, Volume 9, Issue 2, Pages 344–353
DOI: 10.17645/pag.v9i2.3955
Variants of Ranked‐Choice Voting from a Strategic Perspective
Jack Santucci
Department of Politics, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; E‐Mail:
Submitted: 21 December 2020 | Accepted: 17 March 2021 | Published: 15 June 2021
Ranked‐choice voting has come to mean a range of electoral systems. Broadly, they can facilitate (a) majority winners in
single‐seat districts, (b) majority rule with minority representation in multi‐seat districts, or (c) majority sweeps in multi‐
seat districts. Further, such systems can combine with rules to encourage/discourage slate voting. This article describes
five major versions used, abandoned, and/or proposed for US public elections: alternative vote, single transferable vote,
block‐preferential voting, the bottoms‐up system, and alternative vote with numbered posts. It then considers each from
the perspective of a ‘political strategist.’ Simple models of voting (one with two parties, another with three) draw attention
to real‐world strategic issues: effects on minority representation, importance of party cues, and reasons for the political
strategist to care about how voters rank choices. Unsurprisingly, different rules produce different outcomes with the same
sets of ballots. Specific problems from the strategist’s perspective are: ‘majority reversal,’ serving ‘two masters,’ and undis‐
ciplined third‐party voters (or ‘pure’ independents). Some of these stem from well‐known phenomena, e.g., ranking trun‐
cation and ‘vote leakage.’ The article also alludes to ‘vote‐management’ tactics, i.e., rationing nominations and ensuring
even distributions of first‐choice votes. Illustrative examples come from American history and comparative politics. A run‐
ning theme is the two‐pronged failure of the Progressive Era reform wave: with respect to minority representation, then
ranked voting’s durability.
alternative vote; ballot exhaustion; block‐preferential voting; bottoms‐up system; exhaustive‐preferential system; instant
runoff voting; ranked‐choice voting; open‐list proportional representation; single transferable vote; strategic coordination
This review is part of the issue “The Politics, Promise and Peril of Ranked Choice Voting” edited by Caroline Tolbert
(University of Iowa, USA).
© 2021 by the author; licensee Cogitatio (Lisbon, Portugal). This review is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribu‐
tion 4.0 International License (CC BY).
1. Introduction
Over the course of the past two decades, various forms
of ranked‐choice voting (RCV) have been adopted in the
US. These include at the local and state levels, with and
without partisan elections, and sometimes for party pri‐
maries. These RCV forms, as I will show below, have dif
ferent implications for campaign strategy, minority rep‐
resentation, and coalition politics. Yet popular discourse
has emphasized the ballot type (ranked), which is just
one part of a larger electoral system. Other key features
are district magnitude (the number of seats per district),
allocation rule (how votes turn into seats), the size of an
assembly (Rae, 1967; Shugart & Taagepera, 2020), and
rules that do or do not encourage coalition‐minded bal‐
lot marking (e.g., unique party labels, compulsory rank‐
ing, a ticket‐voting option). The emerging literature in
American politics has focused on just one form of RCV,
where district magnitude equals one. This article intro‐
duces four other types, as well as a series of strategic
issues arising under them. One is minority representa‐
tion in the presence of polarized voting.
For the purpose of what follows, RCV means an elec‐
toral system in which voters rank candidates and bal‐
lots transfer to next‐ranked picks until all seats in a
district are filled. Broadly, such systems can facilitate
(a) majority winners in single‐seat districts, (b) major‐
ity rule with minority representation in multi‐seat dis‐
tricts, or (c) majority sweeps in multi‐seat districts. They
can also facilitate single‐party, multi‐party, or weak‐party
Politics and Governance, 2021, Volume 9, Issue 2, Pages 344–353 344
government. Facilitate is a good term because much
depends on how (and whether) voters rank choices.
This review adopts the perspective of a winning‐
minded strategist. Winning can refer to just one seat or
control of the entire government (cf. Cox, 1997). Hence
the essay is about strategic coordination, not strategic
voting. An assumption is that parties—or multi‐party
coalitions, or party‐like formations—will emerge under
RCV (cf. Aldrich, 1995). Then their leaders will take inter‐
est in how and whether voters rank choices (Laver, 2000).
Stories of campaign strategy below will substantiate the
emphasis on leadership.
Reformers may dispute my focus on elites, especially
because their work proceeds in a context of frustra‐
tion with the parties (McCarthy & Santucci, 2021). Yet it
may be helpful to grapple with two facts, both of which
relate to organized electoral competition in post‐reform
One fact is the near‐universal repeal of RCV systems
in the late Progressive Era and New Deal. Of these, just
two remain: Cambridge (MA) and Arden (DE). Many of
my vignettes draw from such historic cases.
Although a comprehensive account of repeal is
impossible in this article, one overarching possibility
stands out: trying to use reform to create a multi‐party
system, versus introducing reform where multiple par
ties already exist. In most other RCV democracies,
such systems have been imposed to manage exist‐
ing (or incipient) multi‐party competition: Australia
(Farrell & McAllister, 2006a), Ireland (Gallagher, 2005,
pp. 512–514), Malta (Hirczy de Miño & Lane, 1996,
p. 24), Northern Ireland (McGarry & O’Leary, 2006), New
Zealand (Cheyne & Comrie, 2005), Scotland (Curtice,
2007), and most recently Wales (Slaughter, 2020). In the
US, by contrast, two‐party politics have been constant.
Therefore, RCV adoptions in the US have been, by
necessity, about managing (e.g., Santucci, 2018a; Weeks,
1937) or creating (e.g., Gehl & Porter, 2020; Porter, 1914)
intra‐party factionalism. Differences between ‘multi‐
party politics’ and ‘two‐party factionalism’ may help
explain RCV’s historic instability in the US. Note that, in
repeal campaigns, opposing party bosses often blamed
these systems for producing a “lottery effect” (Straetz,
1958, pp. 13, 31, 37; cf. Weaver, 1986, pp. 142–143).
This suggests widespread frustration with unpredictable
outcomes—both from elections and politics inside of leg‐
islatures (see, e.g., the ‘two masters’ problem noted in
Section 4). These problems are less common in multi‐
party RCV democracies.
Second is that seemingly minor RCV details can
reduce minority representation. Such effects may not
be foreseeable when voting coalitions are in flux, i.e.,
the very conditions propelling many RCV adoptions. But
modern reformers need to know that many of their pre‐
decessors’ ‘wins’ occurred in a context of voting restric‐
tion (Bridges & Kronick, 1999, p. 693). As US voting rights
expanded to a larger share of the population, effects of
the other details became visible (cf. Trebbi, Aghion, &
Alesina, 2008, p. 345). Those details include small assem‐
blies, numbered posts, nonpartisan ballots, and citywide
plurality‐majority elections (which replaced or outlasted
RCV). Block‐preferential RCV, also covered below, could
play a similar role today.
The essay begins with RCV ‘forms’ that have been
used for US public elections. Section 2 sketches a sim‐
ple model of voting and seat allocation in each form. This
shows what happens when voting is polarized and voters
are able to rank all choices. The model draws attention
to several issues that might concern a strategist: mechan‐
ical effects on minority representation, consequences of
strong/weak party cues, problems from voters’ non‐use
of rankings, and problems from cross‐aisle preference
flows (referred to here as majority reversal and serving
two masters). I allude to the problem of vote manage‐
ment, or optimizing the number of nominees and how
votes are distributed among them.
Sections 5 and 6 introduce a third party. This is
because having more parties is a major goal for some
reformers (e.g., Drutman, 2020, on multi‐seat districts).
Meanwhile, others aim to have more non‐party inde‐
pendents (e.g., Gehl & Porter, 2020, on single‐seat dis‐
tricts without party nominations). The three‐party model
addresses both constituencies. Its core results are: out
come sensitivity to small variation in third‐party vote
distribution, this group’s pivotal status, and (counterin‐
tuitively) that the ‘proportional’ system (single transfer
able vote, henceforth STV) minimizes its impact on major
party seat shares. The essay concludes with a summary
of core points.
2. Types of Ranked Voting in the US
Most RCV systems derive from STV, so that is worth
describing up front. A candidate must meet a win thresh‐
old (technically a quota), usually defined as: (total valid
votes)/(seats in district +1) +1. Votes above the thresh‐
old are surplus; they transfer to next‐ranked picks. If no
candidate meets threshold, the trailing candidate is elimi‐
nated, and ballots in their column transfer to next‐ranked
picks. Ballots without next‐ranked picks sometimes lead
to quota re‐calculation. The count iterates between sur
plus transfer and elimination until all seats are filled.
Surplus transfer may be at random (a subset of a win‐
ner’s ballots) or by some fractional rule (a portion of
each of a winner’s ballots). See the Ranked Choice Voting
Resource Center (2020) for details. If there is only one
seat in the district, STV becomes the alternative vote (AV).
The quota is a majority, and surplus cannot exist.
AV is used to elect roughly 20 local governments,
in part or entirety. Six jurisdictions since 2000 have dis‐
continued use: Aspen (CO), Burlington (VT), Cary (NC),
Hendersonville (NC), Pierce County (WA), and North
Carolina (for statewide judicial elections). A handful
of states use AV for one or more party primaries/
conventions. Maine uses it in primaries and federal gen‐
eral elections (FairVote, 2020). One recent innovation is
Politics and Governance, 2021, Volume 9, Issue 2, Pages 344–353 345
to apply AV in the second round of a non‐partisan two‐
round election. In Alaska, the only place to adopt this
so far, four candidates will proceed to the AV round,
regardless of party designation (Herz, 2020). Cary (NC)
used a ‘contingent vote’ version, which let only the top
two candidates receive vote transfers (“Cary chosen,
2007). Queensland, Australia also used this (1892–1942)
to elect its unicameral legislature. Ann Arbor (MI) used
AV for a partisan mayoral election in 1975, then summar‐
ily repealed it (Ratner, 2018). During the Progressive Era,
11 states used either AV or Bucklin voting for statewide
party primaries (Weeks, 1937). Bucklin was the AV of
its day and similar to it with one exception: candidates
are not eliminated. Rather, in each round of counting,
lower preferences are added to higher preferences, until
a majority winner emerges (Hoag, 1914a, p. 10).
STV is used in Albany (CA), Eastpointe (MI),
Palm Desert (CA), Cambridge (MA), Arden (DE), and
Minneapolis for park board elections (since 2006).
The first three resulted from voting‐rights claims (or
threats thereof) against citywide plurality systems. Arden
has used STV since 1912, when it was a single‐tax
colony (Proportional Representation League, 1915, p. 3).
Cambridge retains STV from an earlier reform wave,
1915–1947, when 23 cities adopted it as part of council‐
manager charters. One more, New York City, combined
STV with a separation‐of‐powers system (Amy, 1996;
Santucci, 2017; Weaver, 1986).
A third version is the bottoms‐up system, used for
some South Australian local‐council elections until 1999
(Sanders, 2011, p. 703). Like STV, it uses multi‐seat
districts, but there is no quota (and hence no sur‐
plus redistribution). Trailing candidates are eliminated,
and their ballots redistributed, until all seats in a dis‐
trict are filled. Recently, reformers in Missouri have
sought to impose ‘bottoms‐up’ for state‐legislative elec‐
tions, in tandem with reducing the size of that assem‐
bly (Ballotpedia, 2021). Five states used a modified ver
sion for 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. District
magnitude was the number of delegates in each juris‐
diction. In contrast to ‘standard’ bottoms‐up, however,
transfers brought candidates to 15% (per Democratic
National Committee rules). Then, candidates earned del‐
egates in proportion to their final‐round vote shares
(as such, votes for candidates functioned as votes for par‐
ties would in a proportional system where voters rank
parties, not candidates).
Fourth is the block‐preferential vote (BPV), exhaus‐
tive preferential system, sequential RCV, or instant
runoffs (plural). This applies AV to a multi‐seat election.
Voters rank all candidates at once, but each seat gets a
separate tabulation. The win threshold is a majority—
not an STV quota. After the first candidate is elected,
all ballots in their pile count toward next‐ranked choices
at full value. Other ballots count toward highest‐ranked
choices who have not been elected. Elimination occurs
within a tabulation if someone cannot get to a majority.
The process repeats until all seats are filled. Currently,
any Utah city opting into RCV with multi‐seat districts
must use BPV (Municipal Alternative Voting Methods
Pilot Project, 2019). Other places considering BPV are
Missouri, along the lines of the Utah law (Stacy, 2021),
and Arlington (MA; Town of Arlington, 2021, p. 32).
The system is called ‘block’ because it uses AV to build
up a full slate. In that, it is related to multi‐seat plurality
(wherein the voter may cast as many votes as there are
seats), commonly called ‘block vote.
Finally, AV can be used with numbered‐post elections.
Progressives achieved a functional equivalent by com‐
bining the Bucklin system with the commission form of
government (Bucklin, 1911; Johnson, 1914; Porter, 1914).
Under commission government, candidates would run
citywide in a series of ‘numbered posts,’ which, at the
time, corresponded to city departments (e.g., parks,
water, roads). In modern times, these posts become, e.g.,
Seat A, Seat B, Seat C. The candidate declares which seat
(post) they are contesting, and the election is city‐(or
district‐)wide. It is similar to BPV in that the same district‐
wide majority gets to fill every seat.
Any RCV system now (or formerly) appearing in the
US—AV, STV, bottoms‐up, BPV, and AV with numbered
posts—can be combined with rules that encourage slate
voting. Australian federal politics have been conspicu‐
ous for these: grouping co‐partisans on the ballot, per‐
mitting voters to ratify a predetermined set of rankings
(which may include multiple parties), and/or requiring
some minimum number of rankings (Reilly, 2021; Reilly
& Maley, 2000). Australia also is the only jurisdiction
to have used AV for legislative elections, over many
decades, without seeing it repealed. Another basic issue
is whether ballots include party labels at all, or, if they
do, whether a party gets to present a single slate (e.g.,
versus in Alaska).
As the next two sections show, how and whether vot‐
ers use rankings is important for winning‐minded elites.
Note that three related RCV modifications were debated
in American history. A so‐called Gove (1894) system
would have let the voter choose one candidate and, by
extension, that person’s rank‐ordering. In New Jersey,
where Bucklin‐commission was widespread, a ballot was
invalid unless the voter ranked at least one candidate for
each numbered post (Rosenthal & Santucci, 2021). Two
of 11 states with majoritarian ranked‐ballot primaries
required at least two rankings (Weeks, 1937, p. 65).
Finally, in American history, reformers got support for
STV by combining it with party‐free ballots, nomination‐
by‐petition, and reduction of assembly size (i.e., council‐
manager reform). See Thompson (1913, pp. 421–426) for
related critique of “the so called non‐partisan idea.
3. Simple Model of Ranked Voting with Two Parties
This section demonstrates seat‐share outcomes for a
polarized electorate that can rank all choices, building on
Santucci and Reilly (2020), with credit to political scien‐
tist Andy Eggers.
Politics and Governance, 2021, Volume 9, Issue 2, Pages 344–353 346
Let there be 100 voters in a city with a three‐seat
assembly. There are 26 candidates, A–Z. 51 voters rank
them A, B… Z. 49 voters rank in reverse: Z, Y… A. To keep
things simple, let the pure AV election be to just one seat
(e.g., mayor).
Under AV, Party A wins in the first round of counting.
In AV with numbered posts, Party A wins all three seats—
even if Party Z has a majority in some neighborhood.
Under STV, the quota is 100/(3 +1) +1=26. A gets
the first seat. Their surplus (51 26 =25) transfers to B,
now one vote shy of threshold. Z is the next candidate
with a quota, and they get the second seat. Their surplus
(49 26 =23) transfers to Y. All trailing candidates are
eliminated, as none has votes to contribute. B gets the
third seat, with more votes than Y. Result: 2 for Party A,
1 for Party Z.
Under bottoms‐up, A and Z get seats. No other candi‐
date had votes to contribute on elimination. The council
is left with a vacancy. This is unlikely in practice, however,
because parties typically run as many candidates as they
expect to win (see note on ‘spread the preferences’ in
the next section).
Finally, under BPV, Party A candidates win all three
seats. A gets the first seat. All their votes transfer, at full
value, to candidate B. In the second tabulation, B gets the
seat (now with 51 votes from A). All their votes transfer,
at full value, to candidate C. In the third tabulation, C gets
the seat (with 51 votes from B, which originated with A).
4. Strategic Implications for Two‐Party Politics
The scenarios above demonstrate (or allude to) sev
eral strategic aspects of the varied RCV systems. These
include effects on minority representation, outcomes
when party cues do not structure rankings (which they
did do above), outcomes when voters rank too few
choices (which voters did not do above), and what hap‐
pens if like‐minded voters do not distribute their support
efficiently among preferred candidates (e.g., leading to
the empty seat under bottoms‐up).
First, in polarized electorates, two of the three multi‐
seat rules do not provide minority representation: BPV
and AV numbered‐post. This is consistent with expe‐
rience. BPV’s most prominent use was for Australian
Senate elections, 1919–1946, where 55 of 60 such races
produced single‐party sweeps: “All five deviant cases,
moreover, arose in the first decade of the system’s oper‐
ation; thereafter it functioned exclusively as a winner‐
takes‐all system” (Reilly & Maley, 2000, pp. 42–43, 57).
Similar results have occurred in Australian local elec‐
tions (Sanders, 2011). In the US, Progressive Era advo‐
cates of ranked ballots abandoned numbered‐post for
this reason (Hoag, 1914b, p. 54; Thompson, 1913, p. 420).
Note that bottoms‐up can replace either system if STV
and single‐seat districts are politically unworkable (and
ranked ballots must be used).
Second, the scenarios illustrate what happens when
party cues do not structure voters’ rankings. A survey of
the US literature suggests that unstructured rankings can
lead to elite disaffection, efforts to get control of voters’
rankings, and even more efforts to change the electoral
system. In the past, such efforts have come from reform
opponents, as well as reformers themselves.
One set of frustrations stems from ‘vote leakage,
i.e., when transfers cross party lines (Gallagher, 1978).
This encompasses two possible issues. One is majority
reversal, e.g., votes leave Party A, then help Party B win
more seats. An example of this occurred in Cincinnati,
1955, when the Republican Party won a majority of first‐
choice votes, but the ‘good government ’ slate won a seat
majority (author’s work‐in‐progress). Some might cast
this as a ‘pro’ for STV, allowing alternative issue dimen‐
sions to shape seat allocation. It is worth noting, how‐
ever, that this was Cincinnati’s last election under STV
rules. Further, as noted in the introduction, blaming STV
for a ‘lottery effect’ was common in such repeal efforts.
A second ‘leakage’ problem might be called two
masters—when one party’s winners owe their seats to
voters from a different party. This is especially likely
when a party over‐nominates, i.e., runs more candidates
than it can elect. It is rational to do this if expectations
are unclear (e.g., where the RCV party system does not
track voter registration). The strategist recruits a slate
of neighborhood candidates, per normal STV strategy
(Bowler & Farrell, 1991, p. 305; Carty, 1981; Schulze,
2011, p. 22), then pads its shared vote with transfers
from hopeless candidates (Bentley, 1926, p. 466). If can‐
didates know they are hopeless, they may seek transfers
elsewhere. In turn, if elected, they may feel beholden
to voters whose transfers got them into office (Reilly,
2018, pp. 211–216; Reilly & Stewart, 2021). Whether
two masters is virtue or vice depends on the value of
party cohesion.
One last problem with unstructured rankings is rank‐
ing truncation, or when a voter does not rank all candi‐
dates. This can result from indifference, protest voting,
or from failure of elites to coordinate on likely winners.
Most truncation is innocuous. However, when it leads to
winners without full quotas of total ballots cast, it is com‐
mon to refer to the rate of ‘ballot exhaustion.’ Analysts
of ballot exhaustion have tended to study AV, point‐
ing out winners without overall vote majorities (Burnett
& Kogan, 2015; Kilgour, Grégoire, & Foley, 2020). But
in multi‐seat elections, we may care about legislative
majorities. In the STV example above, Party A won a
majority because its voters did give candidate B their sec‐
ond choices. This did not happen in New York City, where,
at the first STV race in 1937, reformers failed to win a seat
majority. McCaffrey (1937, p. 45) writes: “The Democrats
won two or three more places than their proportion of
first choices would have entitled them to receive because
of the large number of exhausted ballots cast by mem‐
bers of the opposition.
Responses to unstructured rankings—or rankings
that do not accord with reformers’ expectations—have
taken several forms. One is outright repeal, as noted
Politics and Governance, 2021, Volume 9, Issue 2, Pages 344–353 347
above with respect to STV in Cincinnati. Alvarez, Hall, and
Levin (2018) and Eberhard (2017) document such an out‐
come under AV in Pierce County (WA). The former com‐
pared ballot data from partisan and nonpartisan races in
2008. In the partisan races, most voters ranked their pre‐
ferred party’s candidates. In the nonpartisan race, rank‐
ings reflected other factors. None of this is surprising.
One year later, however, leaders in both parties orches‐
trated AV’s repeal, responding to an independent victory
in the nonpartisan race. Meanwhile, in Cleveland under
nonpartisan Bucklin (1913–1919), “Alternative votes of
the independent voters would tend to build up the aggre‐
gate vote of the party candidates, but the regular party
voters would contribute nothing to the aggregate vote of
the independent candidates” (Maxey, 1922, p. 85). In this
case, party cues did structure voters’ rankings—just not
in the way that reformers had hoped. Hence, they aban‐
doned Bucklin for STV, seeking direct representation via
the non‐majority quota (Barber, 1995, pp. 120–124).
Another response to unstructured rankings, mainly
under STV, was to create de facto parties in response
to adverse outcomes. This was common practice in
US cities at the end of the Progressive Era, based on
a ‘lessons‐learned’ report for the National Municipal
League (Harris, 1930). In turn, Gosnell (1930) analyzed
aggregate transfers in the city where these ‘good gov‐
ernment’ parties had been perfected. He found that
“rivalry between the [reform slate] and the organiza‐
tion Republican party outweighed all other factors”
(p. 471). This rivalry also shaped descriptive representa‐
tion. The party stopped slating women and blacks until
it came to believe those groups would reliably provide
transfers to the slate’s other members (Burnham 1997,
p. 139, 2013, p. 56; Santucci, 2018b; cf. Benade, Buck,
Duchin, Gold, & Soo, 2021).
There are several ways to deal with unstructured
rankings. One is to require voters to rank all candidates,
as Australia does federally with AV and once did with
STV. Another is to permit ticket voting, which raises
questions about who should constitute a ticket (Muller,
2018). The Maltese solution is to allocate seats based on
parties’ first‐choice vote totals (Hirczy de Miño & Lane,
2000, p. 183). Finally, one can replace STV with open‐
list proportional representation, getting rid of rankings
and transfers altogether. In a paper that largely went
ignored, Gosnell (1939) proposed just such a change,
having examined STV returns from New York City and
Cincinnati (also see Lien, 1925, p. 265). With open‐list
proportional representation, votes for candidates deter
mine two things: how many seats each party will get,
then who in those parties will get seats. Ranking trunca‐
tion and vote leakage are nonissue in open‐list propor‐
tional representation.
This section has pointed out some strategic issues
with two‐party politics under ranked ballot. It has not
delved deeply into issues of vote management, i.e.,
ensuring that slate candidates each have enough high
rankings to survive early‐round elimination. The discus‐
sion of neighborhood candidates alluded to a spread‐
the‐preferences strategy, and STV with parties might
make it important (e.g., the Fair Representation Act,
which would apply STV to US House elections). In addi‐
tion to rationing nominations, spread‐the‐preferences
involves evening out the first‐choice‐vote distribution
(Farrell, Mackerras, & McAllister, 1996, p. 34). Note that,
in the bottoms‐up example, the third seat did not get
filled because neither party had ‘spread the preferences.’
Other issues not covered here are ballot‐order effects—
as in Australia (Orr, 2002), Scotland (Curtice & Marsh,
2014), and Boulder (CO; Sowers, 1934, p. 34)—as well
as the politics of filling casual vacancies (Miragliotta &
Sharman, 2017; Straetz, 1958, p. 80).
5. Simple Model of Ranked Voting with Three Parties
Say that candidates M and N have launched their own
party in the ‘middle’ of the spectrum. Another way to
think about this ‘centrist’ party is that it has found an
issue that splits the majors’ coalitions (cf. Nagel, 2006,
p. 146). Examples are Ross Perot in 1996, or Ralph Nader
in 2000. Four voters rank N, M, L… A. Three voters rank M,
N, O… Z. This shared 7% is inspired by the share of pure
independents in the 2019 US electorate (LaLoggia, 2019).
Each third‐party group aims to keep votes away from
its main competitor, although, in practice, they might
gang up on largest Party A (Laver, 2000). The overall
vote distribution is A–Z (47), Z–A (46), N–A (4), M–Z (3).
Again, for simplicity, let the pure AV election be to just
one seat.
In AV and AV with numbered post, Party A wins all
seats. Since no candidate has a majority, all candidates
without votes are eliminated. Then M is eliminated, and
their ballots flow to N (now with seven). Still, no candi‐
date has a majority. N is then eliminated; four votes go
to A (now with 51), and three votes go to Z (now with 49).
In STV, competition is for the third seat. A and Z win
outright, transferring surplus to B and Y, who enter the
next round with 21 and 20 votes, respectively. Neither
has a quota, so all candidates without votes are elimi‐
nated. That leaves B (21 votes), Y (20 votes), N (4 votes),
and M (3 votes). Then M is eliminated, and three ballots
flow to N (7 votes). In the following round, three N ballots
flow to Y (23 votes), and the other four go to B (24 votes).
B then gets the third seat by default.
With bottoms‐up, three parties get one seat each.
Round one eliminates all but A, Z, M, and N. Then M is
eliminated. Their three ballots flow to N. With just three
candidates remaining, all seats are filled: A, Z, and N.
Finally, with BPV, Party A sweeps the district. No can‐
didate has an outright majority. M is eliminated, and
their four ballots flow to N. Now with seven votes, N is
eliminated. Four of these votes land with A (47 +4=51).
The other three votes land with Z (46 +3=49). A now
has a majority, taking the first seat. B and C enter the sec‐
ond and third tabulations, respectively, with A’s 47 votes.
As the process repeats, B and also C win.
Politics and Governance, 2021, Volume 9, Issue 2, Pages 344–353 348
6. Strategic Implications for Multi‐Party Politics
Everything noted in Section 4 still applies with a third
party. New insights are as follows.
First, results are sensitive to minor change in the
vote distribution across pivotal groups, just as under
‘conventional’ plurality. If one N–A voter had ranked
M–Z instead, the AV and BPV elections would have
tied. In bottoms‐up, the third seat would have gone
to M, not N. In STV, seat three would have gone to Y,
not B. A two‐vote shift would turn the ties into wins for
Party Z.
How might one deal with the unpredictability of third‐
party/independent voters? Potential solutions may not
sit well with those who oppose parties writ large, nor
with those who oppose multi‐party politics. One is sim‐
ply to have more parties, so that voters can rank choices
based on a sense of ‘party family’ (cf. Clark, 2021; Clark
& Bennie, 2008). Another is for M and N to control a
disciplined party. While that party still would be pivotal,
it could cut deals with other parties as parties (Sharman,
Sayers, & Miragliotta, 2002).
Finally, STV appears to blunt the impact of the M and
N groupings. Under each majoritarian system, they can
change the entire result. With bottoms‐up, one of them
is able to win a seat (hence the importance for major par
ties of nominating the right number and ‘spreading the
preferences’). With STV, however, M and N only change
which major party has a seat majority. For those who
view STV as ‘proportional’ (but see Farrell & Katz, 2014),
this is counterintuitive. Many expect such systems to
enhance the role of ‘outsiders’ (cf. Hermens, 1941; but
see Lien, 1941). While the adoption of proportional rep‐
resentation is beyond the scope of this article, dealing
with threats from ‘outsiders’ is a major part of that story
(see, e.g., Ahmed, 2010; Cox, Fiva, & Smith, 2019).
7. Conclusion
This article has described the different kinds of RCV used
for public elections in the US, historically and in mod‐
ern times, drawing on comparative cases. These include
rarely‐used (for now) and less‐understood systems like
bottoms‐up, BPV, and AV with numbered posts. The stan‐
dard versions are AV and STV, although, as we have seen,
the ecosystem is more complicated. Seemingly small and
technical distinctions matter. Different allocation rules
can produce different outcomes with identical vote and
ranking distributions. In turn, those different allocation
rules have predictable effects—given polarized voting—
on minority representation.
Meanwhile, elites matter—not just whether voters
are strategic. Minor variations in vote and ranking distri‐
butions can produce different outcomes with the same
RCV type. Such systems therefore carry many of the same
strategic issues as plurality, except with allowance for
‘expressive’ first‐choice voting. Hence the strategist is apt
to care about how and whether voters rank choices.
The article covered some strategic issues with party
and party‐like competition in RCV: vote leakage (with
derivative problems of majority reversal and two mas‐
ters), ranking truncation, issues of vote management
(the need to nominate strategically and manage a vote
distribution across like‐minded candidates), and the
need for stable coalition (to deal with otherwise unpre‐
dictable third parties/independents). The US literature
suggests that some of these issues have come up in RCV
repeal campaigns.
The sorts of dynamics noted in this article may not
resonate with some reformers, as their work centers (for
now) on “expanding voter choice” (e.g., FairVote, 2015).
Rather, strategy tends to matter later on, as coalitions
settle in, and normal politics resumes. One such issue
is certain variants’ potential, given polarized voting, to
cut off minority representation. This potential relates to
district structure and allocation rule—two sometimes‐
overlooked aspects of the myriad RCV systems. Another
set of issues relates to parties’ role in a democracy—
especially whether we expect (or want) them to struc‐
ture voters’ rankings.
A broader question is whether RCV can be used to
induce multi‐party politics. Maybe it can (cf. Duverger,
1954), and maybe it cannot (cf. Colomer, 2005). If one
wants more parties in legislatures,STV is better than
AV in any form (Jansen, 2004). Far more important is
the interaction of district magnitude and assembly size
(Shugart & Taagepera, 2017). Less obvious, as shown
above in the case of bottoms‐up, is that major‐party coor‐
dination failure may create the real openings (cf. Maeda,
2012). Whatever form RCV takes, if one wants to avoid
repeal at the hands of opposing ‘party bosses,’ coali‐
tions need some measure of control of voters’ rankings.
For example, Drutman (2020, pp. 184–185) recommends
Australian‐style ticket voting. But most of this gets back
to adoption where more than two parties do not yet exist.
History suggests the price has been designing RCV sys‐
tems to ‘get parties out of politics.
The author thanks Michael Maley, Benjamin Reilly,
Twitter user @ClashIrony, and four anonymous review‐
ers. Thanks also to Caroline Tolbert for coordinating this
thematic issue.
Conflict of Interests
The author declares no conflict of interests.
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About the Author
Jack Santucci is Assistant Teaching Professor of Political Science at Drexel University, teaching courses
in American politics and political institutions. His research focuses on party change and electoral
reform in the US.
Politics and Governance, 2021, Volume 9, Issue 2, Pages 344–353 353
... RCV is an electoral system in which voters can express their preferences by ranking multiple candidates (Santucci, 2021). The literature has suggested that, like in FPTP, ballot order effects are present and consequential in RCV (Orr, 2002;Curtice and Marsh, 2014;Robson and Walsh, 1974;Ortega Villodres and Garcia de la Puerta, 2004;Ortega Villodres, 2008). ...
... 10 More generally, the discussion here applies any preferential voting system, including Alternative Vote (also known as a singlewinner RCV) and Single Transferable Vote (STV) (also known as a multi-winner RCV). For more variants of RCV, see Santucci (2021). 11 AnOne extreme type of ballot order effect in RCV has been documented as the "donkey vote" (Orr, 2002) that has been "observed at federal elections in Australia, in which some electors simply number sequentially from 1 onward down the ballot paper" (Reilly, 2001, 158). ...
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In ranked-choice elections, voters vote by indicating their preference orderings over the candidates. A ballot is truncated when the ordering is incomplete (called partial voting). Sometimes truncation is forced—voters are allowed to rank only a limited number of candidates—but sometimes it is voluntary. During the vote tabulating process, a truncated ballot is exhausted when all of the candidates it ranks have been eliminated. Ballot exhaustion and, therefore ballot truncation, is a concern in single-winner elections when the margin of victory in the final stage is less than the number of exhausted ballots. That concern motivates our study. We review evidence from actual single-winner ranked-choice elections and conclude that voluntary ballot truncation is very common. Moreover, it is difficult to explain strategically. To assess the significance of ballot truncation, we simulate ranked-choice elections with four, five and six candidates, using both spatial and random models of voter preferences. Does truncation change the probability that a Condorcet winner wins the election? Does the winner change as the extent of truncation increases? We find that even small amounts of truncation can alter election outcomes.
en Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a class of reforms increasingly used in the United States to replace plurality and runoff elections. We ask whether support for RCV taps a larger generational divide in politics. We consult five surveys, two of these from recent adoption campaigns, and all with different ways of asking about RCV support. Generation is a significant predictor in four of these samples, accounting for standard demographic factors and partisanship. This relationship also holds within black and Republican subgroups, two groups often thought to be less likely to support RCV. Finally, we find that dissatisfaction with “the way that democracy works in America” is a plausible link between generation and reform support. For better or worse, RCV has potential to divide two important voting blocs in America. Our results suggest that, rather than turn away from electoral politics, a disaffected young generation may turn to reform. Related Articles Cormack, Lindsey. 2019. “Leveraging Peer‐to‐Peer Connections to Increase Voter Participation in Local Elections.” Politics & Policy 47 (2): 248‐266. Fisher, Patrick. 2020. “Generational Replacement and the Impending Transformation of the American Electorate.” Politics & Policy 48 (1): 38‐68. Shaykhutdinov, Renat. 2019. “Socialization, Rationality, and Age: Generational Gaps and the Attitudes toward the Chechen War in Russia.” Politics & Policy 47 (5): 931‐955. Abstract es La votación por orden de preferencia como tema generacional en la política estadounidense moderna La votación por orden de preferencia (RCV, por sus siglas en inglés) es una clase de reformas que se utilizan cada vez más en los Estados Unidos para reemplazar las elecciones de pluralidad y segunda vuelta. Nos preguntamos si el apoyo a RCV genera una brecha generacional mayor en la política. Consultamos cinco encuestas, dos de ellas de campañas de adopción recientes, y todas con diferentes formas de preguntar sobre el soporte de RCV. La generación es un predictor significativo en cuatro de estas muestras, y representa los factores demográficos estándar y el partidismo. Esta relación también se mantiene dentro de los subgrupos negros y republicanos, dos grupos que a menudo se piensa que son menos propensos a apoyar a RCV. Finalmente, encontramos que la insatisfacción con “la forma en que funciona la democracia en Estados Unidos” es un vínculo plausible entre la generación y el apoyo a la reforma. Para bien o para mal, RCV tiene el potencial de dividir dos importantes bloques de votantes en Estados Unidos. Nuestros resultados sugieren que, en lugar de alejarse de la política electoral, una generación joven descontenta puede recurrir a la reforma. Abstract zh 现代美国政治中的世代问题—优先排序投票 优先排序投票(Ranked Choice Voting,简称RCV)是一种在美国越来越多地进行使用的选举改革类别,以代替相对多数选举制和两轮决选制。我们就支持RCV是否在政治上加深了世代分歧提出疑问。我们咨询了五项调查,其中两项来自近期采纳RCV的竞选,五项调查都以不同方式询问了RCV支持。世代在其中四项调查中是显著预测物,解释了标准人口因素和党派性。该关系在黑人和共和党亚群体中也成立,这两个亚群体经常被认为不太可能支持RCV。我们最终发现,对“美国民主的运作方式”的不满可能是世代和改革支持之间的联系。不论好坏,RCV有潜力让美国的两大重要投票群体产生分歧。我们的结果暗示,不满的年轻一代可能会选择改革,而不是远离选举政治。
Local electoral reform is important because local politics is a ‘missing link’ in understanding how electoral reform impacts upon political behaviour. This article discusses this question through examination of Scotland where the single transferable vote (STV) was introduced in 2007. This had consequences for party competition, how voters used their preferential ballot and local party system fragmentation. The article examines data from three rounds of STV local elections between 2007-2017, before comparing them with local elections under SMP. The first section applies debates regarding electoral reform and party systems to local elections. Sections two and three outline the electoral reforms implemented from 2007, and set out some expectations about voter and party behaviour. The fourth part examines local party candidate strategies, before the fifth section discusses voting behaviour under the STV system. The sixth section reflects on whether this has increased party system fragmentation at local level.
This book argues that the United States now has, for the first time in American history, a genuine two-party system, with two fully-sorted, truly national parties, divided over the character of the nation. And it is a disaster. It is a party system fundamentally at odds with our anti-majoritarian, compromise-oriented governing institutions. It threatens the very foundations of fairness and shared values on which democracy in the United States depends. The book tells the story of how American politics became so toxic and why the country is now trapped in a doom loop of escalating two-party warfare from which there is only one escape: increase the number of parties through electoral reform. As it shows, American politics was once stable because the two parties held within them multiple factions, which made it possible to assemble flexible majorities and kept the climate of political combat from overheating. But as conservative Southern Democrats and liberal Northeastern Republicans disappeared, partisan conflict flattened and pulled apart. Once the parties became fully nationalized—a long-germinating process that culminated in 2010—toxic partisanship took over completely. With the two parties divided over competing visions of national identity, Democrats and Republicans no longer see each other as opponents, but as enemies. And the more the conflict escalates, the shakier America’s democracy feels.