When given the chance, voters largely take advantage of the rank-ordering feature of RCV. This is even more evident in primary elections where voters may have multiple candidates they find satisfactory. For example, in the 2018 Democratic primary and 2020 Republican primary, the majority of ballots ranked at least two candidates, with nearly half ranking at least three candidates.
Despite worries over confusion, when presented with an RCV ballot, voters understand what to do. For example, in the 2018 general election, over 97% of ballots properly ranked at least one candidate and nearly half ranked at least two. Further, the proportions of blank ballots in RCV primary elections are essentially identical to the last primary election before RCV took effect.
Voters are not being “disenfranchised” as a result of RCV. The data shows extremely low rates of confusion in RCV elections. In fact, even in the famously tight 2018 ME-2 general election, confused voters did not impact the outcome. Instead, voters used the rank-ordering feature of RCV to communicate their preferences, and the candidates with the broadest support won.
In 2016, Maine voters approved Question 5, the Ranked Choice Voting Act, which stated that all primary and general elections for governor, state legislature and federal congressional offices would use ranked choice voting (RCV) to establish a winner. After two years of litigation and modifications, Maine implemented RCV for the 2018 primary election and has continued to use it in both primary and general elections ever since.
While Maine was not the first jurisdiction to implement RCV, it was the first to do so for legislative and executive positions at a statewide level, and the highly contested race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018 shone a spotlight on the RCV process. Since that time, RCV has spread to other local jurisdictions and has been adopted in a different form statewide in Alaska. Though not exhaustive, concerns about RCV tend to fall into three broad categories:
1. It is too complicated for voters to understand.
2. It eliminates genuine binary choices between two top-tier candidates.
3. It disenfranchises voters by creating manufactured majorities.
Press release: Multiple Election Cycles in Maine Highlight Voters’ Successful Embrace of Ranked Choice Voting
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