May 21, 2024

New Responsive Gov White Paper: Ranked Choice Voting is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution for American Elections

CHICAGO, IL — A new white paper from the Institute for Responsive Government argues that in an environment where Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) has been pitched as a panacea for all that ails American elections, before getting swept up in the trend, legislators and voters should closely consider if RCV is the right choice for their state. As such, those considering RCV should examine: how RCV may change electoral outcomes in their state; how RCV might impact candidates of color and minority representation; and how RCV might impact voter experience and electoral confidence. The white paper makes Responsive Gov one of the first national democracy organizations to analyze potential challenges and drawbacks to Ranked Choice Voting as an elections reform.

This comes in a federal election year where RCV will appear on the ballot in at least five states and Washington, D.C. Notably, in Nevada, Montana, and potentially Colorado, these changes are being proposed as amendments to the state constitutions, which would be significantly more difficult to change or undo.

“When it comes to remodeling our democracy, it’s critical for policymakers to think about what kind of democracy they hope to ultimately achieve,” said Sam Oliker-Friedland, executive director of the Institute for Responsive Government. “Instead of treating Ranked Choice Voting like a one-size-fits all solution, legislators and voters should take into account the needs of their state, and from there make a strategic decision on whether this major change is right for them and their goals.”

“While RCV is a policy that works really well in some places, research suggests RCV may be associated with increased voter confusion and error in certain circumstances,” said Neal Ubriani, Institute of Responsive Government’s policy and research director. “Before moving forward with RCV, states need a well-funded, well-designed, and sustained implementation plan to counteract these challenges, as well as buy-in from election administrators to address these concerns.”

Please note that as a 501(c)(3) organization, the Institute for Responsive Government takes no position on who wins elections. But as policy experts, the organization is required to analyze whether the mechanics of a policy actually produce the outcome that proponents claim.

Read the full report here.

Additional information
Responsive Gov argues that legislators and voters should take into account the following factors when determining whether to move forward with Ranked Choice Voting:

Impact on Electoral Outcomes

  • RCV has the power to significantly change electoral outcomes.
  • For example, in a place like Nevada, this would have handed victory to Adam Laxalt in the 2022 U.S. Senate race because RCV would have allocated most of the 19,382 conservative third-party votes to him.

Impact on Candidates/Communities of Color

  • RCV may ultimately hurt candidates of color by undermining traditional paths to power for candidates of color in state and federal contests.
  • For example, without RCV, in some districts, a minority candidate might win a primary due to strong support from voters of color, and then win the general election due to unified party support. In an election with RCV, this path to victory would be far more difficult and uncertain.

Impact on Voter Experience

  • Several studies suggest RCV may be associated with increased voter confusion and error and decreased voter turnout, with heightened effects among low-income voters, voters with lower levels of education, and communities of color.
  • RCV can increase voter error. A recent study incorporating data from Alaska and Maine found that 1 in 20 voters improperly mark ballots in RCV contests.
  • Recent studies indicate that as many as 16% of voters in RCV elections were somewhat or very confused by the process, with significantly higher rates among Latino voters.
  • In a swing state like Nevada, with RCV, the resulting voter error and confusion could affect tens of thousands of voters and easily tip the balance of power for both the Presidency and control of Congress.

To speak with Responsive Gov experts about ranked choice voting, please contact

The Institute for Responsive Government is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to ensuring state and federal governments work effectively for the very people they serve. IRG provides data, research, and expertise to elected officials in order to find practical policy solutions that make government systems more efficient, accessible, and responsive.