Machine counting is the fastest way to count RCV elections. Machine count procedures for ranked choice voting elections can vary greatly based on the capabilities of the voting machines involved in that election, the laws in the place holding that ranked choice voting election, and how many different voting precincts are involved in the election. Some machines, like Hart’s Verity system and Unisyn’s OpenElect are one-push machines: the machines transmit the complete rankings from each voter to a central location once voting is done for the day. The ranked choice voting election will be fully counted out at that central location by a computer application, once all ranking data has been collected.
Other systems, like ES&S’s DS 200, require a poll worker to export the ranked choice voting data to a memory card or flash drive, which will then be transported to a central location where one computer collects all data on the election. A third party counting application then aggregates all the election data to determine the election result.
See the RCV Resource Center’s page on Election Machines for more information on how certain machines process RCV elections.
Minneapolis, Minnesota uses ES&S DS200s for their ranked choice voting elections, like so:
Voters scan in their ranked choice voting ballots to the DS200, as is done for any type of ballot or election.
The DS200 tabulates votes cast for each race and ranking.
At the close of voting, the election judge:
Prints out at least three physical copies of the results tape (for public display, for storage, and for reporting to the central counting location)
Using a secure modem or direct download to a secure server, sends the cast vote record directly from each DS200 to a central tabulation location.
Once they are all received at the central tabulation location, each DS200's cast vote record is merged in to one complete cast vote record containing data from every ballot cast in the election.
The complete cast vote record is exported from the election software and the ranked choice voting election is tabulated using third party tabulation software.
Many places running ranked choice voting elections count those elections by hand. While the counting process is more complicated and time consuming than the counting for a simple plurality election, it is still easily done by hand and is highlighted by cybersecurity experts as a more transparent counting process than machine counting. In general, election judges/clerks start with sorting out ballots by what candidate is ranked first on those ballots, then further sort those by second, third, and later rankings. Telluride, Colorado’s hand count procedures are a good example of best practices for hand counting ranked choice voting elections. There is a link to them below. Takoma Park has also used hand counting for RCV in the past, their procedures are available below as well. Ireland and Northern Ireland hand count their nationwide single- and multi-winner RCV elections, and Australia hand counts their single-winner RCV elections.
Universal RCV Tabulator
The Universal RCV Tabulator is free, open source software for tabulating ranked choice voting elections. This tabulator can take in data from any voting machine capable of exporting a cast vote record and can tabulate a single-winner ranked choice voting election according to the rules used in any current RCV city in the United States. The tabulator outputs results and an audit file for RCV elections in seconds. More information and download links are available if you click this link.
Principles and Guidelines Report (Results Presentation Guidelines begin on page 29)