It's easy as 1-2-3.
In a ranked choice election, we don't just vote for one candidate. Each voter gets to rank the candidates from most to least favorite: first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on. If one of the candidates earns a majority of the first-choice votes, that person wins the election. Pretty simple.
But what if none of the candidates has a majority of the first-choice votes, like in the race below? Candidate A has the most supporters, but more than half the voters would prefer someone else.
That's where the second-choice votes come in. Since Candidate C has the fewest supporters, we eliminate Candidate C from the race and transfer those voters' ballots to their second choice.
Now we have a clear winner. In a head-to-head race between A and B, Candidate B wins a majority because most of C's supporters prefer B to A. That's why ranked choice voting is often called an "instant runoff". It's like holding a second election between the top two candidates, but we don't have to go back and ask everyone to vote again. Candidate C's supporters get to cast their first-choice votes for their favorite option and still have a say in the final winner.
We can easily expand the ranked choice process for more than three candidates. Voters rank the options from best to worst. In each round, we eliminate the candidate with the fewest votes and transfer those ballots to the voters' next choice until someone wins a majority.
And that's the beauty of ranked choice voting. The winner has to earn majority support no matter how many candidates run. Voters get to support their favorite candidates, and no one has to worry about "wasting" a vote on an unpopular pick. No strategy. No "spoilers". Just a real, honest choice for every voter.
To learn more about ranked choice voting in action, visit the FairVote national website.