As the country grapples with how to increase voter confidence, participation and choice in U.S. elections, a new analysis of ranked choice voting (RCV) in Maine by the R Street Institute provides critical insights into implementing these and similar reforms across the country. In particular, the study dispels myths that RCV is too complicated for voters and that confusion prevents voters from accurately expressing their preferences on the ballot.

Following implementation in the 2018 primary election in the state, Maine was the first jurisdiction to establish RCV for legislative and executive positions at a statewide level. That year’s congressional primary and general elections, followed by the 2020 Republican primary election, provided hard voting data on the success of RCV across multiple types of elections.

“Maine provides a robust example of how RCV plays out in a competitive political environment. The data shows that voters are smart and when you put an RCV ballot in front of them, they know what to do with it,” said Matthew Germer, elections fellow at the R Street Institute.

Key findings:

  • Voters seized the opportunity to rank candidates: In the 2018 Democratic primary race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, nearly 65 percent of voters ranked at least two candidates, while nearly half ranked at least three candidates and more than a quarter ranked all four candidates. In the 2020 Republican primary election for the same seat, more than half of all voters ranked at least two candidates and just under half ranked all three.
  • Voters used RCV to cross party lines: Data from the 2018 general election race shows that a strong majority of Democratic and third-party voters and nearly a third of Republican voters ranked more than one candidate, often across party lines.
  • Voters were not confused by RCV: Rather, the number of blank ballots matched the totals seen in elections before RCV, and less than 1 percent of ballots were set aside due to confusion. Even in the highly competitive 2018 general election, the number of confused ballots only totaled 0.21 percent, nowhere near enough to change the outcome of the election.

After three years of implementation and multiple elections, the data in Maine demonstrates that voters understand how to use the power of RCV to express their preferences in elections, and that the overwhelming majority of ballots cast in an RCV election accurately reflect those preferences.

Read the full study here.