Multi-winner ranked choice voting refers to the method of voting and counting of the votes for a multi-winner contest, such as city council, school board or legislature when more than one individual is elected at-large or for district elections with multiple representatives within a district. With ranked choice voting, the voter ranks their choices in order of preference. Then, first choices are counted to determine which candidates have exceeded the number of votes necessary to be elected. After the first round of counting, we can determine whether additional rounds of counting are needed to fill each seat up for election.
To learn more about marking a ranked choice ballot, click here.
Example: Electing 3 Seats With Ranked Choice Voting
In this example, there will be 3 winners. In order to be declared a winner, a candidate must receive the threshold (25%) plus one vote.
Candidate A wins in the first round of counting because he/she received more than 25% of the votes cast. Since ranked choice voting is designed to waste as few votes as possible, the surplus votes for Candidate "A" beyond the 25% needed to win will count for those voters' next choice. Since Candidate "A" received 7 votes beyond the winning threshold, those 7 will count for those voters’ second choice, adding three votes to Candidate "C," two votes to Candidate "D," and two votes to Candidate "E."
Candidate "D" has the lowest number of votes and is eliminated. The eight votes Candidate "D" received will now count for voters’ next choice, pushing Candidate "B" over the threshold to be elected. One vote for Candidate "B" is beyond what is necessary to win, and is therefore counted for the voter’s next choice. Candidate "B" is declared a winner along with Candidate "A," and we have one seat left to elect among the remaining candidates.
The one surplus vote from Candidate "B" counts for the voter’s next choice, putting Candidate "C" over the threshold to be elected (25% +1), making Candidate "C "the 3rd and final winner.
For a comparison of single-winner and multi-winner ranked choice voting, download our brief report laying out the benefits and best uses of each method.
Multi-Winner Ranked Choice Voting in Depth
While the example above is a simplified example to show how multi-winner ranked choice voting works, we have left out some details of how votes are counted in places that use this system in the United States. If you’d like to learn more about the details of those methods, visit the examples below which explain how ranked choice voting is conducted in Cambridge, MA and Minneapolis, MN. You can also watch our webinar on multi-winner ranked choice voting, which covers its history, where it's been used in the United States, how the various tabulation methods work, and how to administer the method.
Watch: Ranked Choice Voting Explained in the Animal Kingdom
Note: This video refers to multi-winner ranked choice voting as "single transferable vote," which is another term for the voting method. The video also calculates the threshold differently than we do on this page, but that was likely done in the interest of simplicity. The threshold calculation used on this page is used everywhere multi-winner RCV elections are run today.