How to use IRV for elections in your organization

Instant runoff voting is perfect for organizational elections when you have more than two people running for one office. (If you are electing several people to a body that you wish to be representative, you should use choice voting.) Counting an IRV election by hand is easy when you have fewer than a thousand ballots. If you've got more than a thousand ballots, you might want to use ballot-counting software that is available from Voting Solutions. This will require entering the data from the ballots into a computer file or using some type of ballot counting equipment that can read and store rankings.

You can also use IRV when making endorsements, even if you have a "No Endorsement" or "None of the Above option." 

Conducting an instant runoff election is easy. All you have to do is create the ballots, sort the ballots by first place votes, and successively eliminate the weakest candidates until one candidate receives a majority of the ballots.
1. Create the ballots
The ballots must allow voters to indicate at least first, second and third choice candidates. Each voter can make his or her own ballot by simply writing down "1st choice," "2nd choice" and "3rd choice" on a piece of paper, or you can distribute pre-printed ballots to the voters. You can allow voters to rank as many candidates as you like.

Either way, voters should be instructed to write in the name of their first choice candidate, their second choice candidate and the third third choice candidate.

The instructions can tell voters that they may vote for as many or as few candidates as they wish. You can also inform voters that ranking additional candidates can only help the chances of election of the ranked candidates; it can never hurt the chances of any of the voter's candidates. For example, ranking a 2nd choice candidate will never cause your 1st choice candidate to lose; it can only help the chances of your 2nd choice.

Sample ballot:

Instructions to the voter: Please write the names of your 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice candidates. You may vote for as many or as few candidates as you wish.

1st Choice: __________________
2nd Choice: _________________
3rd Choice: _________________

2. Sort the ballots
Examine each ballot to make sure that it is properly filled out. In all cases, try to honor the intent of the voter if it is clear. Only disregard a ballot if the voter's intent is not clear or if the voter voted improperly, such as by listing two candidates for first choice.

Once you have examined and interpreted the ballots, sort them according to the first choice rankings. This will leave you a pile of ballots for each candidate. Count the number of votes in each pile, add them up, and determine if any candidate has received a majority of the valid votes. If so, that candidate is elected. If not...

3. Successively eliminate the weakest candidate
Pick up the pile of ballots for the weakest candidate (the candidate with the fewest votes), and redistribute them to the next-ranked candidate on the ballot who is still in the race. If a ballot doesn't rank any more candidates still in the race or ranks the next 2 candidates equally, the ballot is declared "exhausted" and is set aside. These ballots are not counted during the remainder of the election. After you eliminate the weakest candidate, if any candidate receives a majority of the ballots that rank candidates still in the race, the candidate is elected. Otherwise, eliminate the weakest candidate and repeat the process. One candidate is guaranteed to eventually receive a majority of the ballots that are not exhausted.

If 2 or more candidates are tied for weakest candidate, draw lots to determine which candidate to eliminate first.
A majority means more than 50%, which many people think of as 50% + 1. Only 1 candidate can receive a majority of the vote.
A majority of 6 votes is 4 (50% of 6 = 3, and a majority is more than 3, or 4).
A majority of 5 votes is 3 (50% of 5 = 2.5, and a majority is more than 2.5, or 3).

If you have any questions or would like assistance, please don't hesitate to contact us by email or phone at 301-270-4616. If your professional organization or business would like to contract with FairVote to conduct its elections, please see our Election Services Group.