By Laurie Jedamus
Libraries Civic Engagement Committee

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Voters in the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and several suburbs will be using ranked choice voting in the upcoming city elections on Nov. 2.

Even though ranked choice voting has been around for a long time (Australia has used it for over 100 years!), many voters in the Twin Cities may be using it for the first time, since it is a fairly recent development in U.S. elections.

Read on for our detailed breakdown of ranked choice voting. Make sure to check out our Libraries voting guide for even more about voting and elections!

How is ranked choice voting different from the elections most Americans are familiar with?

Most elections in the United States use plurality voting, where a voter casts their vote for a single candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins. In a race with three or more candidates, this means that a candidate can (and often does) win without receiving a majority of the votes.

In ranked choice voting, each voter marks their first, second, and third choice in each race.  The winning candidate will always be the one chosen by the most voters, even if that candidate was only the second or third choice for some.

How to vote using ranked choice

Record your choices for up to three candidates in each race, ranking them in order of preference. Mark your favorite in a race in the first column, your second choice in the second column, and your third choice in the third column.

Best Ice Cream FlavorRank your first, second, and third choice candidates in the columns below. One to be elected for dessert tonight.
1 First Choice. Select one.2 Second Choice. Must be   different from your first choice. Select one.3 Third Choice. Must be different from your first and second choices. Select one.
●  Chocolateo  Chocolateo  Chocolate
o  Pistachioo  Pistachioo  Pistachio
o  Strawberryo  Strawberry●  Strawberry
o  Mint Chip●  Mint Chipo  Mint Chip

How are the votes counted?

  • If a candidate gets over half of the first choice votes, they win the race.
  • If no candidate gets over half of the votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and first choice votes for the eliminated candidate are transferred to that voter’s second choice.
  • As Anna Purna Kambhampaty with Time explains, “In other words, if you ranked a losing candidate as your first choice, and the candidate is eliminated, then your vote still counts: it just moves to your second-choice candidate.“
  • If none of the remaining candidates has received over half the votes, the process is repeated until a candidate gets over 50% of the votes in a race. This can take multiple rounds if there are many candidates — for example, there are 17 candidates for the 2021 Minneapolis mayor’s race.

Advantages and disadvantages

  • The major disadvantage of ranked choice voting is that counting the ballots can take longer than with plurality voting. For example, it took about two weeks for the counting to be completed for the 2021 New York City primary election (though this was partly because of the large number of absentee ballots, which can take longer to count). The longer time is normal and is due to the different process.
  • One advantage of ranked choice voting is that polarizing candidates who alienate the wider community of voters are at a disadvantage. A candidate who can attract the second or third choices of many voters has a better chance. This can also help discourage negative campaigning, which may resonate with some but put off others.
  • Another advantage is that ranked choice voting can allow voters to vote for the candidate they truly prefer, even if that candidate is not likely to win. If their favorite candidate is eliminated, they haven’t “thrown away their vote;” their second choice vote can go to a candidate who aligns at least partially with their views.
  • By voting for the candidate who aligns with their views but isn’t likely to win, voters can also send a message to the eventual winning candidate that a significant number of voters support their perspective. It can also increase the number of candidates from underrepresented groups.

More information

For more information about ranked choice voting and how it works, see:

 Opinion pieces on ranked choice voting:

Check out the Libraries’ voting guide

Register to vote, look up your ballot, learn about researching candidates, and so much more via the Libraries voting and elections guide.

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