Ranked-choice voting, like any interesting topic, is full of its own unique terms and jargon. Some terms are straightforward. Others are familiar, but used in new ways. And sometimes, there's "Droop Quota."
Read on to learn more about these terms and how they're used in RankedVote:
What voters fill out to express their ranked choices. To be valid, a ballot needs to have at least one first-choice rank.
A category is a grouping of choices in a ranked-choice contest. As an example, a multi-category ranked-choice contest could involve voting on "Best Restaurants" with the categories of "Breakfast," "Lunch," "Dinner."
In an "election," each position that candidates run for in an election is an "office." Using a typical student council election as an example, the offices would be "Class President," "Vice President," "Treasurer." etc.
What voters rank on their ranked-choice ballots. Ranked-choice voting becomes most relevant when there are three or more choices. In RankedVote, when creating a "Contest" they are called "choices," in "Decisions" they are called "options," and in an "Election" they are called "candidates."
A grouping of one or more categories where voters cast ranked-choice ballots to determine the winning choices.
The Droop Quota determines how many votes are needed for a choice to "win" in an election. It's a mathematical equation that, from a practical standpoint, says, "Any more votes for this choice won't change the outcome. This choice has already won."
For a single-winner election, the Droop Quota is 50% plus one vote. If there were 60 voters in a single-winner election, a candidate would need 31 votes to win.
For multi-winner elections, things get more interesting. In a two-winner election with 60 voters, a candidate would need 21 votes to win (33% plus one). A three-winner election would require 16 votes to win (25% plus one).
RankedVote uses the Droop Quota to allocate "excess votes" in multi-winner elections. Once a candidate reaches the Droop Quota, all excess votes for that candidate go to the voter's next ranked choice. This removes the "penalty" that can occur when many voters vote for the same candidate.
If you want to go deeper, Wikipedia is your friend.
When a choice lacks enough support to win, that choice is eliminated and any voters who chose that choice have their votes redistributed to their next ranked choices. In RankedVote, after a round, the lowest vote getting choice is eliminated. If multiple choices have the same low number of votes, they are all eliminated simultaneously.
In multi-winner contests, if a choice has received enough votes to win, then any additional votes for this choice have no bearing on the outcome. RankedVote takes those excess votes and redistributes them to the voters' next ranked choices.
The purpose of ranked-choice voting is to better represent the will of the voters. In the same way that voting for an unpopular candidate with no chance of winning shouldn't penalize your vote, voting for an extremely popular candidate shouldn't reduce your representation either.
Exhausted (or Inactive) Votes
When all of the choices a voter has ranked have been eliminated, the vote is considered "exhausted." In other words, there is no "next ranked choice" to redistribute the vote towards. This becomes more likely when a voter only ranks one or two choices.
A voting system where the top five candidates are selected from the primary ballot (an "Open Primary") and ranked-choice voting is used in the general election. Combined, they form a “one-two punch” of electoral reform. Candidates build broader coalitions to get elected and are rewarded for generating results instead of conflict. Voters see those results come home and, ultimately, that their vote matters.
"Final-Five Voting" elections on RankedVote are made in partnership with The Institute for Political Innovation.
This is a phrase that can also be used to describe ranked-choice voting. Traditional runoff elections are elections where a large field of candidates is winnowed down to two and then, at a later date, a separate election is held between the final two. Ranked-choice voting allows all that to be accomplished with a single trip to the polls for voters. The eliminations that happen in the ranked-choice calculations are effectively an "instant runoff" between the candidates.
By going from multiple elections to one, ranked-choice voting becomes a clear cost saver in places that use traditional runoff elections.
The support of more than half of the voters in an election. Ranked-choice voting better reflects voters' preferences and is more likely to lead to majority support for a candidate — especially when compared to "first past the post" style elections (aka "most votes wins").
An "open primary" is a primary election where the voter does not have to be formally declared with a political party in order to participate. In other words, any eligible voter can vote.
This is in contrast to a "party primary" where voters must formally declare a party affiliation beforehand. In other words, Republicans vote for Republicans and Democrats vote for Democrats.
A voting system where voters select their most preferred choices on the ballot — first, second, third, and so on. If no candidate gets enough votes to win, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated.
Those who voted for an eliminated candidate have their votes redistributed to their next ranked choices in the following round.
This elimination and redistribution process repeats until a candidate receives enough votes to win.
A "round" is the process of determining if there's a winner, and, if not, eliminating the lowest vote getters. In Round 1, all first-choice votes are added up. If no choice wins in Round 1, then the lowest vote getter is eliminated. Anyone who voted for the eliminated choice has their vote count for their next ranked choice in the following round. This continues for as many rounds as are needed to determine a winner.
A ranked-choice contest where rounds continue until there are two choices left and one is determined to be the winner.
A ranked-choice contest where rounds continue until all winners are determined. Votes for eliminated choices and winners with excess votes are redistributed during these rounds.
There are times, due to exhausted votes, that the winner of a ranked-choice contest doesn't necessarily have majority support. This is more likely to happen in elections with lots of candidates and where voters don't rank as many candidates as possible.
In these situations, RankedVote uses the phrase "strongest support" for accuracy.
Even with ranked-choice voting, tied outcomes can occur. When that happens, RankedVote does the best it can to reflect the strongest preference of the voters.
If two (or more) choices have the same number of votes at the end of a round, RankedVote looks at how all voters ranked each of those choices. The choice with the least support amongst all voters is eliminated. RankedVote's tiebreaker uses an algorithm similar to the Borda Count.
And, in the rare event that the tiebreaker calculation has a tied result, RankedVote picks the first choice. At that point, there's no additional information to feed into the algorithm, and "picking the first one" leads to a consistent winner.
At the end of a round, any votes for eliminated choices are moved to their next ranked choices.
For example, say "Steve" is the candidate eliminated after Round 1. Any voters who chose Steve as their first-ranked choice would have their votes moved to their second-ranked choices for calculating Round 2.
The above also applies to winners with excess votes in multi-winner contests.
Votes to Win
This is the number of votes necessary for a choice to win. How many votes that is depends on two factors: 1) the total number of voters and 2) the number of winners.
See Droop Quota for more on how the calculation works.