Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ranked-Choice Voting Update

If you are a reader of this post, you know I support Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV).

Among the more notable developments on Election Night 2016 was that Maine became the first State in the Country to approve the use of RCVfor State Elections, including State Legislative Races.

RCV, sometimes called Instant-Runoff Voting, is a practice that’s used most often by Cities and Towns for Local and Municipal Elections and sometimes by States for Overseas and Military voters in the case of a Runoff Election.

Ranking the Candidates is the easy part. The more complicated part comes in how the votes are counted, mainly because the votes may have to be counted more than once. In a typical Plurality Election, the Candidate who receives the most votes wins. But in RCV, a winner is not declared until one Candidate receives 50% plus one or above.

Here’s how to get there:

- First, the votes are counted per each voter’s number one preference.

- If no Candidate receives 50% or more of the vote, then the Candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated and the votes are counted again.

- If a voter’s number one choice was the eliminated Candidate, then the vote is given to that voter’s second choice Candidate.

- Repeat with choices down the list until one Candidate tops 50%.

What Are the Concerns for Election Administrators?

Administrators’ concerns center on Technology, or perhaps the lack thereof. Only two Voting Equipment vendors have systems capable of performing Ranked-Choice Voting that are certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC).

Others have developed Modules or Workarounds, but do not have EAC Certification.

This has left Jurisdictions to utilize creative methods for doing the complicated calculations needed for the allocating, and reallocating, of votes. For example, in Minneapolis a Hand Count is combined with formula-heavy Excel spreadsheets, a rather clunky process. Minneapolis also uses two teams that must compare their Counts to ensure accuracy. The City also recently changed its ordinance to allow the City to eliminate Candidates who are mathematically unlikely to advance, especially in Races with crowded fields, a Mayoral Race in 2013 had upwards of 30 Candidates. Advocates are pushing for new Voting Machines to include RCV capability.

Cost is another factor. The Maine Secretary of State’s office said it would need $761,000 in 2017-2018 and $641,000 in 2018-2019 for additional Ballot pages and updated Voting Equipment. Additionally, the Department of Public Safety would need $149,000 over that same time-frame for the Cost of Transporting and Securing Ballots for Central counting in Augusta, rather than in Local Jurisdictions.

What’s Happening in 2017?

To date in this year, 25 Bills have been introduced in 14 States to use RCV in Elections at various levels.

In Maine, the fate of the 2016 Ballot Measure authorizing RCV is currently up in the air. One of the key questions over the Ballot Measure was whether it would hold up under Maine’s Constitution which States that the Governor can be Elected with a Plurality of Votes, rather than a Majority.

State Lawmakers have asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to weigh in on the Constitutionality of the Ballot measure.

Supporters of the Ballot measure say the action isn’t necessary but briefs have been filed and oral arguments are set for April. They also working on an effort to change the Maine Constitution to change the Plurality to Majority vote.

Voting Systems and RCV

The three largest Voting Systems manufacturers in the U.S. are Elections Systems and Software (ES&S), Dominion, and Hart Intercivic. This list describes what level of RCV readiness is included in the Voting systems manufactured by those three vendors, as well as which Voting systems are used by jurisdictions with RCV today.

Note that there are systems with varying levels of RCV readiness outside of those three manufacturers. For example, Unisyn has a Federally certified RCV ready Voting system, and Clear Ballot has expressed an interest in incorporating RCV readiness into its Voting systems.

Each of these vendors, and others, replied to a Request for Information (RFI) from the Colorado Secretary of State in 2013 which included a question about RCV readiness.


Any Voting system manufactured by ES&S that uses its DS-200 tabulator can be used to Administer an RCV Election, although it may require some modification to do so. Prior to 2013, ES&S developed the EVS system for the RCV Elections taking place in Minneapolis, MN. That system included the ability to read ranked Ballots and then export all Ballot data into a digital file that could be read by commercial off-the-shelf software like Microsoft Excel. ES&S later Federally certified the EVS system with that same export function.

If using the ES&S EVS system, an RCV Election can include a Ballot that allows voters to Rank multiple candidates in a grid layout. For example, the ES&S DS-200 tabulator was able to read the Ballot used in Portland, Me in 2011, which allowed voters to Rank 15 choices. Then, the system can export all Ballot data into a Digital file. The Jurisdiction can then use any third party or commercial off-the-shelf software to tabulate the results.

ES&S systems are used to administer RCV Elections in: Minneapolis, MN; Portland, ME; and Takoma Park, MD.


Dominion has indicated its willingness to modify its systems to provide for the ability to read and tabulate Ranked Ballots. The cost to include that functionality must be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Once modified, Dominion systems can read and tabulate Ballots internally, at the push of a button. They do not require any additional third party software or other workarounds. All RCV Elections conducted on Dominion systems currently are limited to a three-column format, meaning that every candidate is listed once for a voter's first choice, then they are listed again for a second choice, and again for a third choice. However, Dominion has indicated that in future Elections using its Democracy Suite 4.14 system, it will be able to accommodate a tighter grid-layout allowing Voters to Rank more than three candidates. Dominion systems are used to Administer RCV Elections in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro, CA.

Hart Intercivic

Hart Intercivic is the only system of these three vendors to have a Federally certified system tested for RCV Ballots. Because Hart systems are not yet used to conduct RCV Elections, precise information on its RCV readiness is less clear. According to Hart Representatives, its system can be modified to read and tabulate Ranked Ballots. The exact capabilities are unclear, but St. Paul, MN will be using a Hart system to conduct its RCV Elections in 2017, and they report that the tabulation will be conducted internally, meaning that no third party software or other workaround will be used.

CLICK HERE for more information about Ranked-Choice Voting.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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