Ranking Presidents: How Ranked-Choice Voting Can Improve Presidential Primaries


Drew Johnson
Fellow, Governance
Matt Germer
Associate Director and Elections Fellow, Governance Program

Key Points

Ranked-choice voting is a deep-rooted, increasingly popular and quickly spreading voting system that makes elections more efficient and encourages voters to be more engaged.

Ranked-choice voting provides unique value for presidential primaries by: (1) reducing “wasted votes” on candidates who drop out before a state’s Election Day but still appear on the ballot, (2) more accurately reflecting voters’ preferences by reducing the influence of strategic factors, and (3) increasing candidate legitimacy by requiring broad support from the electorate.

When used in a presidential primary, Ranked-choice voting could lead to more representative results, improve our political culture and help restore the parties as institutions.

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Executive Summary

The presidential primary system is a long and convoluted process. Candidates compete in dozens of independent elections across every state and territory in an attempt to secure enough backing to become their parties’ nominee for president. Each state runs its own elections, and both the Republican and Democratic parties have their own rules for how votes convert into national convention delegates. While each of these systems has its own set of benefits and problems, all of them could be improved by the use of ranked-choice voting (RCV).

RCV is not a new idea, but it has been spreading across the country in recent years, with five states now allowing voters to rank their favorite choices in the Democratic presidential primary. This paper explores how RCV can improve presidential primaries, both by creating more flexibility for voters as candidates drop out of the race and by more accurately allocating delegates to reflect voters’ preferences.

Press Release: Ranked-choice voting can improve presidential primaries

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