Pros and Cons of Instant Runoff (Ranked Choice) Voting

Pros and Cons of Instant Runoff (Ranked Choice) Voting

Blog Post

by Betty Keller

The LWVVT has a position in support of Instant Runoff Voting, but we here present a review of the arguments for and against it.


Promotes majority support - The voting continues until one candidate has the majority of votes, so the final winner has support of the majority of voters.  

Discourages negative campaigning - Candidates who use negative campaigning may lose the second choice vote of those whose first choice was treated poorly.

Provides more choice for voters - Voters can vote for the candidate they truly feel is best, without concern about the spoiler effect.

Minimizes strategic voting - Instead of feeling compelled to vote for ‘the lesser of two evils,” as in plurality voting, voters can honestly vote for who they believe is the best candidate.\

Saves money compared to running primary elections (to narrow the field before the general election) or run-off elections (to chose a final winner after a general election, if no candidate has a majority, and if the law requires a majority for that office).  With IRV, the result can be obtained with one ballot.

Provides an outcome more reflective of the majority of voters than either primaries (get extreme candidates “playing to their base”) or run-off elections (far lower turnout for run-off elections, typically).


It is new - A certain percentage of people don’t like change.  This can make them unhappy, or might make them decide to not participate.

It will require education about how it works - We don’t want spoilt ballots!  We don’t want uninformed people coming to exercise their right and responsibility to have a bad experience, or to leave without voting properly.

The ballots and the counting of the ballots will be more expensive - It either requires a computer system, or is labor intensive to count by hand, with risk of errors.  But security and integrity of our elections will require having a “paper trail” so that we can do recounts, and know the results are valid.

The “vetting” is less clear -  In the U.S., we have very few requirements for what a person must do to run for office and be on a ballot.  With primaries, the idea is that there is so much publicity that voters in later primaries, and then in the general election, will have learned the candidates’ weaknesses and be better informed before voting.  If there are no primaries, we may need to figure out how to “vet” candidates better, or pass more requirements for candidates to qualify to run.

You could still fail to get a candidate with a majority.  If enough voters did not give any votes to 

their lower choices, then you could fail to get a candidate who ends up with a majority, after all. Australia requires that voters do rank every candidate, even if they really don’t want some of the candidates.  (I have not seen that proposed in the U.S.)  This might be interpreted as reducing your choice, or forcing you to vote against your conscience.  

I have not seen this discussed yet, but if there are too many choices, without clear front-runners, I am not sure whether the result reflects the voters’ desires as well as it would if there were only, say, five choices.  So it may be complicated to determine who will be allowed on the ballot.

If you look over the list of pros above you can see why towns that use IRV tend to have better voter turnout than before they started the IRV. People are less turned off by the campaign process and happier with the election results.




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