Ranked Choice Voting

While it may sound complicated, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is actually pretty simple!
Let’s walk through the process, and then we’ll answer any additional questions for you.

RCV in utah

For the 2023 general election, 12 Utah cities are participating in the Municipal Alternative Voting Methods Pilot Project, which is a fancy way to say that they are trying out Ranked Choice Voting. They are Genola, Heber, Kearns, Lehi, Magna, Midvale, Millcreek, Payson, Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Vineyard, and Woodland Hills.

So if you live in any of those cities, your ballots are going to look a little different this year.


Ranked Choice Voting can sound complicated, but it’s really pretty simple.
All you need to do is rank the candidates from your favorite to least favorite. That’s it!

Blank Ranked Choice Ballot

Our sample Race is about pie, because yum.

When you receive your ballot in the mail, it will look something like this.

Depending on the race, there may be as many as 10 candidates per race. You will have a rank choice for each candidate.

If there are 10 candidates there will be 10 ranking opportunities. If, like our sample ballot, there are only 5 candidates, only 5 preference rankings will be listed, and so on and so forth.

Example 1 Mock Ranked Choice Voting Ballot
Oopsy! Pie again

Example 1

This ballot has all pies selected for Rank 1. While all of the pies are great, this is not the point of RCV. 

The point is to rank the candidates from your favorite to least favorite.

You can only have one winner of a race.

Example 2 Mock Ranked Choice Balllot
Keep Your Eyes on the Pie

Example 2

This ballot has Key Lime for every choice. Even if you are the biggest Key Lime fan in the world, this is not the point of RCV.

The point is to rank the candidates from your favorite to least favorite.

If you don’t list your backup choices, your vote may end up not counting.

Example 3 Mock Rank Choice Voting

Example 3

Sub-lime Sticker

This ballot has been perfectly filled out. A single choice has been selected for each candidate and for each rank. 


The votes are in, but how are they counted?

After the election, all of the first choices are counted up. 

If any single candidate gets the majority of the votes (over 50%), they are declared the winner!

Squeeze the Day!

In this example you can see that Lemon Meringue got 51% of the vote. So that’s it! The winner is Lemon Meringue!

Example 1

In this next example, none of the choices received more than 50% of the vote. 

Ranked Choice Voting is also often called Instant Runoff Voting, and situations like this are the reason why.

When there isn’t a candidate who has received a majority of the vote, a runoff takes place.

This is why it’s so important to rank the candidates from your favorite to least favorite.

Example 2 - First COunt

Rank 1 vote tallies

Because Key Lime received the fewest amount of Rank 1 votes, it will be removed from the process. 

The ballots of all of the voters who put Key Lime as their Rank 1 choice will be revisited, and their choice for Rank 2 will now be distributed to the remaining choices.

As you can see, the 10% of votes that had Rank 1 as Key Lime have gone into the remaining 4 choices.

However, even with those votes added, no candidate has reached a majority. So the process happens again. 

This time adding together the Rank 1 and Rank 2 votes, Blueberry pie has the fewest votes, and so it will be removed from the process.

Example 2 - Second RankING

Rank 2 Vote Tallies

All of the ballots are revisited for people who had Blueberry as their choice for Rank 1 or Rank 2. Their next Rank choices are distributed between the remaining 3 choices.

And look at that! Apple pie has achieved a majority of the vote with 53%! We have a winner!

All the Peels

Example 2 - THIRD RankING

Rank 3 vote tallies

RCV Video library


What happens if the voter chooses only one candidate?

If their candidate doesn’t receive a majority of the votes in the election, they may be eliminated during an instant runoff, and that means the voter won’t have a say in who gets elected. If the voter marked their next favorite candidate, they could still take part in choosing the best candidate.

Is RCV the same as Instant Runoff Voting / Single Transferable Vote / Preference Voting / The Alternative Vote?

Yes. There are several alternate terms for Ranked Choice Voting. Basically, they all mean that voters rank the candidates from their favorite to least favorite.

Do you have to rank all of the choices?

Voters can rank as many or as few candidates as they like. It is a best practice to rank all the candidates permitted on the ballot; however, you do not have to rank all of your choices if you don't want to.

Does ranking more than one candidate weaken my first-choice vote?

Nope! Ranking additional candidates as your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. choices does not affect your first choice. All first-choice votes are tallied in the initial round of counting. Only if your first choice gets eliminated will your 2nd, 3rd, or later rankings come into play.

What happens if there is a tie?

Ties are broken by lot in Utah (e.g. flip a coin, draw straws, etc.) It’s the same for Ranked Choice Voting.

Will it still be a vote-by-mail election?

Yes. The State of Utah is an entirely vote-by-mail state. However, cities and counties may provide in-person polling locations. Check with your local county clerk or visit vote.utah.gov to find a polling place.

Will it take longer to see results?

No. The time period for results remains the same amount of time in state statute.

Cities will have 2 weeks to canvass the election from the date of the election, and the last day for the board of canvassers to meet is November 16, 2021.

What may be different to prior elections are how the results will look on a daily basis. Where RCV may eliminate candidates in rounds, the results may favor one candidate but as one is eliminated, the votes where the eliminated candidate was ranked as the voters first choice will then be transferred to their second favorite candidate. This could cause the period where ballots are being counted to show different candidates in the lead on a day-to-day basis.
I ranked my vote

FAQs and answers compiled from slc.gov, FairVote, Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, and UtahRCV.