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How Do We Get Ranked-Choice Voting?

Learn how voting rules are determined, the groups advocating for change, and how you can get involved.

Voting Rules Can Change

“First past the post.” “Winner takes all.”  “Plurality rules.” “Most votes win.”

These phrases describe how winners are selected across most elections in the United States. The plurality-based approach — where the most votes win even if those votes don’t represent a majority — is so prevalent that it can feel like the only way that elections are decided.

But, it’s not the only way. 

In fact, the Constitution is silent on the mechanics of voting. How a ballot is cast has been up to individual states and municipalities since the country’s founding. Over 10,000 electoral jurisdictions exist across the country. While the rules are similar across jurisdictions, each can decide how elections are conducted. And that conduct has changed significantly throughout history.

Through the late 1800s, most voting was conducted on “open ballots.” These ballots were frequently provided by political parties, prefilled with their chosen candidates, and conspicuously marked to show others in sight which candidate got that citizen’s vote. These ballots were eventually replaced with “secret ballots” —  ballots provided at public expense and marked out of sight of others — which were less likely to result in voter intimidation. 

What’s interesting is how secret ballots were adopted. In 1888, Louisville, Kentucky became the first jurisdiction to vote by secret ballot. Massachusetts followed later that year. By 1896, 39 out of 45 states had adopted the approach. Over the course of just eight years, this political innovation went from one jurisdiction to the national norm.

More recently, Maine changed its electoral rules to embrace ranked-choice voting. The 2010 Maine gubernatorial election resulted in the winner commanding just 37% of the vote — barely over a third of the electorate.  A groundswell of popular demand followed for more representative political innovations. The people of Maine passed a ranked-choice voting referendum in 2016. Election winners have commanded majority support in the elections since.

The point is: voting rules can change. They’ve changed in the past. And, they can change again. But, only if change is demanded. 

Ranked-choice voting is the political innovation to meet this moment. It improves representation while reducing polarization, spoiler effects, and negative partisanship — all issues that impact the effective functioning of our democracy. 

Maine’s change didn’t happen overnight. The groundwork laid by groups like the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting set the stage. Thankfully, similar groups are pushing for ranked-choice voting adoption.

Groups Pushing for Change

Across the country, passionate people are organizing for ranked-choice voting. Below is a list of groups that are engaged in education, advocacy, ballot initiatives, and anything else necessary to raise the profile of ranked-choice voting in the public consciousness. 

National Organizations
Statewide Organizations

Are you part of an organization working to enact Ranked-Choice Voting this isn’t on the list? Let us know and we’ll get you added. 

How to get Ranked-Choice Voting

Volunteer at or donate to any of the organizations listed above. They’re at the front lines of enacting change. Passionate people were the key to how groups like The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting and Common Cause New York successfully advocated for ranked-choice voting in Maine and New York City. 

If you’re strapped for money or time, use RankedVote to create an election for any group where you’re a member. Elections can be used for any organizational decision (not just for electing leadership positions). The idea is that by giving more people positive, direct experiences with ranked-choice voting, the more inclined they’ll be to support it in the future. 

DON'T WAIT ANY LONGER

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