CVD homepage
What's new?
Online library
Order materials
Get involved!
About CVD

Using Instant Runoff Voting
in School Elections


Over this past year more schools across the country implemented or voted to adopt IRV for their school elections.  Most recently, The University of Minnesota voted in IRV to be used next year.  The University of California at Davis (UCD) used IRV for the first time this year with huge success.  

With all of the recent successes, the climate for adopting reform at universities has never been better. This page is designed to help students understand how IRV works and how to go about adopting and administering the system.

Because they often have more than two candidates, student government elections are a perfect place to use instant runoff voting. Many schools have a majority rule requirement that results in runoff elections. IRV ensures that winning candidates are supported by a majority of voters, but does so without requiring an inconvenient second runoff election that can cost student governments more money and result in lower turnout for the runoff election.

Many schools already use instant runoff voting and other full representation systems.  See our listing of colleges and universities using IRV (and let us know if your school uses an alternative voting method -- our list is not comprehensive).

Conducting instant runoff elections

Improving student government elections contains all the information you need for a successful election, including downloadable files for printing out the packet.

Promoting fair elections on campus

If you are interested in pursuing instant runoff voting on your campus, please see our student IRV activist kit (.rtf format).  The information in this packet will guide you through an evaluation of your school's election processes and provide a step-by-step guide to implementation.

We also have a brochure on improving student government elections, which is also available in black and white (both are .pdf files).

Instant runoff voting elects a single candidate supported by a majority of the votes.  If you would like to elect several people to a representative body, such as a student council, and you want the entire body to reflect all the voters, we suggest considering the use of full representation systems like choice voting .

Schools using IRV

The California Institute of Technology

The Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology use IRV to elect their Vice President (Board of Control Chairman), the Board of Control Secretary, and the Interhouse Committee Chairman as outlined in Article VIII, Section 4 & 5 of their Constitution.

Carleton College (Northfield, MN)

IRV had long been in the school's constitution, and was rediscovered when a student activist requested the student government change its voting system. 

  • Read an account of how one student put instant runoff voting back into use at Carleton.
  • The Carleton Student Association webpage has descriptions of its use of IRV including the computer scripts used for tallying votes.

College of William and Mary

The Student Assembly at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA approved IRV for all student elections.

Clemson University

Clemson University's Undergraduate Student Senate has IRV for its
internal student senate officer elections. For the Offices of Student
Senate President, Pro Tempore,  Secretary, and Clerk, IRV will be

Cornell University

Students use IRV to elect student members of the board of trustees.

Duke University

Duke Student Government will elect their six executive committee members through instant runoff voting. After approving the system for this spring's elections, officials have since decided the ballot counting procedures will not be ready until Fall 2004. Read coverage of the change from The Chronicle .

Franklin Elementary School (Berkeley CA)

In November 2001, students in grades K-6 used instant runoff voting to elect the leader of their school, the City of Franklin Elementary.


The Graduate Dormitory Council, Graduate Music Forum and Graduate Student Council all use IRV for their internal executive position elections.

Hendrix College

Hendrix used IRV for the first time during the 2003-2004 academic year.  Voter participation doubled and students were happy that the results were immediate.

Johns Hopkins University

JHU used instant runoff voting for its Freshman student council elections for the first time in the fall of 1999. 

Luther College 

Luther College in Iowa adopted IRV in the Spring of 2003.  At first, the Student Government used IRV only for electing the president, vice-president and secretary, but this will be expanded to include class representatives to the student senate.

Macalester College 

IRV was adopted in Spring 2003 for the election of executive positions on the Student Council.  Use of IRV has expanded to become the preferred method of voting for all one-seat elections, such as a special election to replace a resigning Senator.  

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

MIT uses instant runoff voting for all of their student government elections including president, vice-president, class councils and student senate. Their website includes detailed breakdowns of the transfer of votes in each election since 2000.

Princeton University

Princeton's Undergraduate Student Government uses instant runoff voting for its Senatorial and U-Council elections. See Article VII Section D of their Constitution.

Rice University

The Rice Student Assembly uses IRV to elect the members of their Executive Committee. The most recent election for President included six candidates and 11 rounds of voting.

Reed College

The Reed Student Body Elections Code (as amended in April 2001) provides for IRV in their Presidential, Vice-Presidential and Quest Editorial Board elections.

Sonoma State University

After the adoption of IRV by San Francisco for city council elections, the students of Sonoma State University decided to move to IRV themselves.  Elections will start in the 2004-2005 academic year.

Stanford University

In 2001 they adopted instant runoff voting for their council President election, and the following spring the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) held its second IRV election of its president, and for the second year in a row, avoided a costly and inconvenient runoff election.  See results and a copy of the online ballot. IRV also received good press in the student newspaper. The April 16 top story was an explanation of how IRV works and why it was adopted, accompanied by a flow chart . The April 16 edition of the paper also included an editorial

Tufts University

The Tufts student body approved a new constitution for the Tufts Community Union. IRV was included in the new version both for the presidential election and the internal election of committee chairs. Read the approved revisions to the constitution.

University of California at Berkeley

UCB uses IRV and a choice voting system to elect their officers. Their voting procedures are outlined in Article VII, Section 5 of their Constitution.

University of California at Davis

On February 20, 2004 students at UCD voted 67%-33% to use choice voting for Associated Student Senate elections and IRV for presidential elections. The California Aggie reports on the change.

Davis Enterprise: "Choice Voting increases meaning of votes." UC-Davis student touts the university's new choice voting system for student elections. November 25, 2003.

California Aggie: "UCD students get first look at 'choice voting." Choice voting to be used in student elections at UC-Davis. November 11, 2003.

California Aggie: "ASUCD Senators should educate student body, not change the system." The Senate votes to keep choice voting after their second election using the system.

University of California at Los Angeles

The Graduate Students Association executive officers, including the president and vice presidents on internal, external and academic affairs, are all elected through IRV.

University of California at San Diego

After the Associated Students formed a Voting Systems Task Force to study the benefits of 10 different voting methods, IRV was chosen as best option for electing their executive officers. Read a press release about the move.  IRV was used for the first time during the 2003-2004 academic year.

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

The Student Government uses instant runoff voting for executive offices.  2002 was the first election under these voting rules, look here for more information. The open party list form of proportional representation is also used for legislative elections.

University of Maryland

UMD's primary campus voted in the spring of 2002 to use IRV to elect its student government.  Read editorials about the decisions from February 2002 and April 2002 .

University of Minnesota

In April 2003, the students of UMN voted to adopt IRV with a whopping 75% of the vote.  The MPIRGs and other campus organizations campaigned hard to generate support for this change.  Elections with IRV will begin during the 2004-2005 academic year. 

University of Virginia

The University Board of Elections, established in 2003, staged a mock 2004 US presidential race using IRV. Pitting incumbent George W. Bush against a half-dozen challengers, the election resulted in a 3.2% margin of victory for senator John Kerry (D-MA). Read the Cavalier Daily's coverage of the election.

University of Washington

Graduate Student Government at the University of Washington has adopted instant runoff voting for single-winner elections and the undergraduate student government may follow.

University of Wisconsin

The United Council of University of Wisconsin Students has adopted IRV to elect the president of its General Assembly, a body of about 150 representatives from schools across Wisconsin. The United Council is the nation's oldest, largest, and strongest statewide student association, representing over 140,000 students at 24 UW System Campuses.

Vassar College

In September of 2002 Vassar's student government voted nearly unanimously to adopt instant runoff voting and the choice voting form of full representation for future student elections.  Read CVD's report on the win .

Wake Forest University

After an especially contentious delayed runoff election this spring, the WFUSG voted to adopt IRV for all executive elections.

Whitman College

Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington recently passed a resolution to use IRV for its single-seat elections and Choice Voting to elects its Student Senate.

top of page

Copyright 2002     The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 610, Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616        [email protected]