How to Interpret Ranked-Choice Results on RankedVote
Getting to the Results Page
As votes come in, the ranked-choice results are calculated in real-time on the Results page. Dynamic visualizations and clear text explanations educate voters on what's happening. Voters get to this page through two main avenues:
- After voting, they'll see a "Preliminary Results" button that will take them to the results page
- You share the "Results Link" with them directly.
If you don't want your voters to see the results, check out the "Keeping Results Private" section below. The default assumption of RankedVote is that voters should have access to results to learn more about how ranked-choice voting works.
Understanding the Results Page
The Results Summary is the boldly colored section at the top of the Results page. It has the most essential info for understanding your contest:
- Winner — Who won the contest. If it's a multi-winner contest, the winners are ordered by who reached the winning threshold earliest. You can think of it as 1st place, 2nd place, etc.
- Votes to Win — This is how many votes a choice needs to be declared a winner. In single-winner contests, this is 50% + 1 vote. For multi-winner contests, the Droop Quota determines the threshold.
- Choices — The number of choices that competed in this contest. For decisions, this is termed "Options." For elections, it's "Candidates."
Note: In Final-Five Elections, the primary round label for "Votes to Win" is "Votes to Advance." Also, there is no visualization as this phase of the election does not use ranked-choice voting.
The Results Visualization is the section with the "dancing bar charts." Many people find this to be the most intuitive way to understand ranked-choice voting results.
The lowest vote-getters are placed at the bottom of each round. In the following round, they are eliminated (grayed out, bar chart is "drained") and any votes for them go to their next ranked choices (green numbers with a + in front). If there is no next ranked choice for a voter, the vote is "exhausted" and shows in the lower right.
The dotted "Votes to Win" line shows how many votes are needed to meet the winning threshold. Once a choice reaches this amount, the choice's bar goes from dark gray to green to make its winning status clear.
The results animate to the next round every few seconds. If this is too fast or you want to focus on a specific round, use the "Prev" and "Next" buttons to move to the desired round.
The Results Summary is the big text section just under the visualization. This section goes into a bit more detail as to how ranked-choice voting works. Key concepts like "Rounds," "Votes to Win," "Eliminations," "Excess Votes," and "Exhausted Votes" are explained.
Elections have a more in-depth explanation section that's focused on educating voters about ranked-choice voting. It includes a comparison between the ranked-choice results and those of a typical "most votes wins" election and can be translated in to over two dozen languages.
Detailed Round-by-Round Results
The last section on the Results page gives you an even deeper look into each choice's performance in a given round. Here are the key components:
- Choice Name (Status) — The first information you'll notice is the choice's name and if it reached a critical status in that round ("Eliminated" or "Winner")
- Redistributed Votes (if any) — After Round 1, the eliminations and vote redistributions begin. If the choice received any votes from eliminations, the total amount received is shown in green to the left of the vote total for that round. Clicking on the green number will expand it to show where the redistributed votes came from.
- Vote Total — How many votes this choice has in this round
- Vote Percentage — The percentage of total votes the choice has in this round
Any exhausted votes in the round are displayed at the bottom of a round. The total number of exhausted votes as well as their percentage of the total vote are displayed.
Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
Keeping Results Private
If you don't want the results to be broadly available, you can make the results private by changing the "Results Visibility" on the Details page. The default is for it to be "Open to all." Change this value to "Only contest creator" and any visitors to the Results page will be blocked. The only way to view the results is by being signed into the creator's account on RankedVote.
"The Big Reveal"
Sometimes, you want to keep the results hidden from view for dramatic purposes. This is particularly relevant for contests.
If this is your case, make sure to set the Results Visibility to "Only contest creator" while you're configuring the details page. Then, once all the votes are in and you're ready to reveal the results, change the Results Visibility to "Open to all." Any visitors to the Results page will immediately have access.
Finalizing the Results
All results are considered "preliminary" until the contest is closed. To finalize the results (and block further votes from being cast), head to the "End Date" section of the Details page and click the "close election" text button.
If you set an End Date for your contest, the results will display as "Final" once that end date has been reached.
Single Winner vs. Multi-Winner Results
Ranked-choice voting is always trying to figure out which choices have the strongest support amongst all voters. How that plays out between single-winner and multi-winner contests has some important nuance.
In a single-winner contest, the ranked-choice eliminations continue until their are two choices remaining. This happens even if the winning choice gets a majority in the first round. Running the eliminations until just two choices remain allow you to better understand how deep the support for the winning choice goes. A winner preferred by 75% of voters has much deeper support than one supported by 51%.
In a multi-winner contest, the ranked-choice eliminations continue until all winners are found (e.g. in a 3 winner contest, the elimination rounds would stop once the third winner is found). Ranked-choice is specifically looking for which choices have the broadest support amongst all voters, not necessarily which choice "ran up the score." That's why excess votes for a choice are redistributed as well.
The "Votes to Win" threshold is determined using the Droop Quota calculation. This is basically a way of saying "any more votes for this choice don't matter, because this choice is already a winner." For a two-winner contest, the threshold is 33% of the vote + 1. For a four-winner contest, the threshold is 20% + 1.
But who got first place?
You can infer a "stack ranking" by seeing which choices won the earliest. The earlier the round a choice wins in, the stronger the support it had amongst voters. You can see this in the visualizer or the detailed round-by-round results.
If two choices won in the same round, then the one with the higher vote total in that round was more strongly supported.
When the Winner Doesn't Quite Have a Majority
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 contests with lots of choices and where voters don't rank as many choices as possible.
Let's be clear, even without a majority, the ranked-choice winner shown by RankedVote is still the winner. It's the choice with the strongest support from voters. That's what matters most.
And, compared to typical single-choice "most votes wins" voting, you've got a far better sense for which choice has the most support.
In a contest with 15 choices, it's not uncommon for the leader in the first round to have less than 20% of the vote. Through ranked-choice eliminations, you may find out that this choice actually has 48% support. That's a much more meaningful number than you started with.
And, in the event that the first round leader doesn't have a broad base of support, ranked-choice voting allows for the real leader to emerge in a way that single-choice, plurality voting can't.
When You Have Many Winners and Few Voters
If you have a high ratio of winners to choices and a low number of voters, you can run into issues having enough information for RankedVote to determine the desired number of winners. This is because a winning choice needs to have at least one first-rank vote in order to win.
In a simple example, imagine your contest has 5 winners out of 7 choices and 4 voters. Even if all 4 voters rank a different choice first, RankedVote will only be able to determine who the 4 winners are. Because it can't get to 5, it will display a "Not enough votes...yet" message instead of the results.
In a more realistic example, imagine your contest has 8 winners out of 10 choices and 12 voters. It's possible that out of those 12 voters, 8 distinct choices receive at least one first-rank vote. But, it's also very possible that there are a couple popular choices getting 4 votes (33%) and 3 votes (25%) respectively. Even if the remaining 5 votes go to distinct choices, only 7 choices will have received votes...short of the 8 winners you're trying to find.
How to handle this scenario
You have a couple options to get to the information you're looking for. The most straightforward is to simply get more voters. The more voters, the more likely that enough distinct choices receive at least one first-rank vote. While it's not guaranteed, a good rule of thumb is to have about 4 times as many voters as winners. So, if you're going to have 8 winners, aim to have at least 32 voters.
If you can't get more voters (e.g. you're a club and everyone has already voted), you can adjust the number of winners on your contest. Go to the Details page and change the number of winners to "1" and then return to the Results page. You'll now see how many distinct choices received votes (they'll have at least 1 vote in Round 1). Those are known winners. For the remaining choices, you can choose to make a judgment call or run another contest featuring just those choices.