Mandating Flexible Voting Equipment Purchases
Implementing a ranked choice voting (RCV) system requires election officials to be cognizant of certain differences between ranked ballot systems and typical plurality or winner-take-all systems. From voting equipment to voter education, ranked choice systems may bring changes to a community's election system and practices. FairVote's Ranked Voting Guidelines document therefore serves to illustrate the various components necessary to successfully implement an RCV election, using either the instant runoff or choice voting method.This document specifies guidelines for the conduct of ranked voting elections, where ranked voting includes both instant runoff voting (IRV) for single-winner contests and choice voting for multiple-winner contests. This document includes ballot, tabulation, reporting, manual audit, and recount guidelines. The guidelines for computer tabulation and hand tabulation are treated separately where appropriate.

Voting Equipment Capabilities

Jurisdictions purchasing equipment and states appropriating funds for equipment should ensure that the new equipment gives the jurisdiction maximum flexibility to adopt any legal voting system. Ranked voting elections can be conducted with all kinds of voting equipment. Most modern voting equipment is compatible with all voting systems and ballot types but will generally have to be retrofitted or upgraded in order to make the equipment ready to use different voting systems and ballot types. The only way to ensure machine readiness is to include a provision in the Request for Proposals or appropriations bill. This will not add to the cost of the equipment in most cases, but it could save the cost of an expensive upgrade in the future.

Demand that your state or county only purchase public interest voting machines that are ready to use proportional voting systems:

A single line can be sufficient:

"Funds may only be appropriated for purchasing or upgrading voting equipment and software that is ready to use all ballot types currently used in public elections in the United States."

It may make sense to specify that this includes ranked-ballot systems and that in such systems, voters rank candidates in order of choice and the voting equipment stores a record of each voter's ranking:

"A ranked-choice ballot is one in which voters may rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference, and the record of each ballot's set of preferences is preserved."

Ideally, however, the language will be more robust:

"Systems shall be ready to implement ranked choice voting and any other ballot types in use within the United States. Particularly, systems shall allow voters to mark and have their ballots registered according to the specific needs of ranked choice voting and be able to tabulate votes according to the specific logic of ranked choice voting. If systems do not meet the above requirements, then they shall be adapted to do so within a year with no extra expense to the State of XXXX or the Counties therein."

For reference, here are the 4 ballot types currently used and the voting systems that use each one in parenthesis. These systems allow voters:
  • To vote for one candidate (plurality, runoff, limited voting)
  • To vote for more than one candidate (at-large plurality, limited voting)
  • To give more than one vote to one or more candidates (cumulative voting).
  • To rank candidates in order of preference (instant runoff voting, choice voting)
With the first three ballot types above, the number of votes for each candidates is simply added up, and the candidate or candidates with the most votes win.

With a ranked-choice ballot, voters must be able to rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference, and the record of each ballot's set of preferences must be preserved. The voting equipment creates an anonymous datafile containing a record of each voter's rankings. To determine the winner(s) of the election, the datafile is fed into ballot counting software or the ballots are sorted and counted by hand.

Recent Articles
October 19th 2009
A better election system
Lowell Sun

Election expert Doug Amy explains how choice voting can "inject new blood" into the elections of Lowell (MA), and give voters a greater incentive to participate.

October 16th 2009
Haven't Detroit voters spoken enough?
Livingston Daily

In Detroit, there have been three mayors in the past two years and the current one has come under scrutiny. Perhaps a system like instant runoff voting will help bring political stability to motor city.

August 21st 2009
Black candidate for Euclid school board to test new voting system
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Limited voting, a form of proportional voting, will be used in Euclid (OH), in the hopes of allowing better representation of minorities.

July 2nd 2009
Reforming Albany
New York Times

FairVote's Rob Richie responds in a letter to the editor making the case for proportional voting systems to bring substantive reform to New York's legislature.