Applying Ranked Choice Voting

Run a Local "Best of" Contest

How to Run a Local "Best of" Contest with Ranked Choice Voting

"Best of" Contests are...the best!

People love to support local groups and businesses. They also love ranking things. When you put the two together, you’ve got a recipe for a fun competition that bolsters local pride.

Whether you’re part of a newspaper, newsletter, magazine, or any other publication, consider running a ranked choice “Best of” contest to bolster awareness for you and the outstanding businesses in your community.

Why use Ranked Choice Voting for "Best of" Contests?

Any time you're making a decision with more than two choices and where voters have equal say, ranked choice voting is the right tool for the job. To win, a choice must get broad support from a majority of voters – not just the passionate support of a vocal minority. For “Best of” contests, this means results are less swayed by an individual participant’s ability to get their customers to vote. The final result ends up closer to what voters actually think is best.

Steps to Run a "Best of" Contest with Ranked Choice Voting

Determine the “Best of” Categories

The first step is to get crisp on which categories you’ll want to have. High-level categories like “Restaurants, “Shopping” and “Nightlife” work great for broad recognition. But, don’t be afraid to get in the weeds. Categories like “Best Brunch,” “Mens Formalwear,” and “Top Martini” can lead to more spirited engagement (pun intended). Whatever level you end up with, aim for between 5 and 12 nominated choices in each category. Having more than 12 options to wade through can overload voters.

Gather Nominations

There are two ways to gather nominations: curate them yourself or ask the crowd.


This approach leads to a more purposeful cross-section of groups and businesses. You can simply include the groups of your choice. Or, even better, use this as an opportunity to reach out to them with an exciting message they're more likely to respond to (e.g. “You’ve been selected to take part in the ‘Best of Our City’s Nightlife’ contest!”).

Even though you’re doing the legwork, this can still be less effort overall than the user-generated approach.


Alternatively, you can use the nomination phase itself as a way to engage with potential voters. If this is your first year doing a “Best of” or if you’re looking to build awareness in the community, gathering nominations is a great hook

Announce that you’re collecting nominations in your most prominent channels (home page, weekly email, etc.). Many local groups and businesses will have a handful of avid fans that will gladly submit their favorites. 

With user-generated nominations, you’ll likely end up with a less balanced cohort of choices. Some categories may over index. And some demographics may over index. For example, you can imagine a college town ending up with the majority of nominations being physically close to campus, geared to 18-24 year olds, and catering to lower price points. 

This may or may not be a problem in your scenario. If it is, you can mitigate by creating a minimum threshold for nominations, actively reaching out to other demographics, or exercising some editorial judgment and blend with the curated approach.

Create the Ranked Choice Ballot

Now, you’ve got your categories figured out. And, you’ve got your 5 to 12 candidates in each category. Woohoo! It’s time to get ready for the real contest. 

RankedVote gives you all the tools you need to easily set up the ranked choice ballots and calculate the results. There are other options, but you’re signing yourself up for hours of manual work buried inside of spreadsheets. Not fun. The following steps describe how to create a “Best of” contest in RankedVote.

Strategic questions to answer first

Will you embed the voting experience directly onto your site?
This is highly recommended. By keeping your visitors on your site, they stay engaged with your content. And, you’re likely to get more responses than if you link off to the voting experience.

The only caveat is that it involves adding an embedded iframe to your site. RankedVote makes the code copy/paste for you. But, if you don’t have privileges to add iframes or custom HTML on your site, you’ll need to ask your website administrator for assistance. 

Do you want one voting experience with a step for each category? Or do you want separate voting experiences for each category?
Typically, one voting experience where the voter votes for Category 1, then Category 2, and so on is the best for turnout. It also makes sense if your site has a single “Best of” page or entry point. In RankedVote, this is called a “multi-category contest.”

If you’re expecting people to only vote in one category and not care about the others, then separate voting experiences are preferable. In RankedVote, this is accomplished by creating separate elections (where each election is one of your categories).

Create the contest

After signing up for RankedVote, you’ll be walked through a wizard where you create your first “contest” and add the “choices.” If you’ve only got one “Best of” category, this is all you need to do. If you’ve got multiple categories, then you’ll want to follow your strategy above of either making this contest “multi-category” or create separate contests.

Spice up the descriptions

Choices start off as just a name. But, they can be further fleshed out by adding a “Group Affiliation,” a “Picture,” and a rich-text “Description.” For a restaurant, you might end up with the following:

  • Name – Steve's Pizzeria
  • Group Affiliation – Kid-Friendly
  • Picture – 🍕
  • Description – Steve’s Pizzeria is a wonderful family restaurant located just off of Main Street near Downtown. Known for their pizza and breadsticks. Family owned and operated since 1985.

Descriptions display just below the ranked choice ballot. However, the group affiliation and picture will display next to the choice's name on the ballot. 

Candidate descriptions
Example Candidate Descriptions for a "Best Burger" Contest

Place onto your site

If you’re embedding the contest on your site, you’ll copy/paste the “Embed Code” for the Vote Page into your website.

NOTE: For a live example of how RankedVote looks when embedded onto a page, check the Demo page.

If you’re not embedding, click the Vote Link button which will copy the URL to your clipboard. From there you can add it to any link on your page.

Promote to Voters

Now for the exciting part – the voting! 

To maximize participation, saturate your channels with messaging and links to the contest. That means your home page, social media, email, and any other digital channel you have. You can even use QR codes to bring people in from physical locations.

A best practice is to allow voting for at least one week, but not more than two. This gives enough time for voters to participate, but isn’t so long that the contest loses momentum.

Calculate the Results

If you’re using RankedVote, this is the easy part. Results are automatically calculated in real-time. Each category has a results page that not only tells you who won, but also visualizes and explains how the ranked choice eliminations and vote redistribution works. 

It’s also a best practice to keep these results tight to the vest until voting has concluded. In RankedVote, that means setting the “Results Visibility” to “Only contest creator” until you’re ready for the winner announcement.

Announce the Winners

This is the moment everyone has been waiting for. Saturate your channels once again with the results. Reach out to the winners and encourage them to do the same. Reach out to voters and get them to post, retweet, and otherwise amplify the message.

Prepare for Next Time

Once the excitement of the winners announcement has died down, it’s good hygiene to look back at the contest and assess what happened and where you want to improve. Were there too many nominations? Not enough? Too many categories? Where was your highest engagement? Did businesses take it seriously? Were certain demographics more engaged?

All of those data points can be used to refine the next contest. You may find that voters were significantly more interested in “Restaurants” than other categories. That could justify a more granular contest where “Restaurants” gets further refined into categories like “Diner,” “Bar or Pub,” “Family Restaurant,” and “French Cuisine.”

Whatever it is, follow the data and double-down on what works.

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