How Ranked Choice Voting Works in Multi-Seat Elections

In a multi-seat election, Ranked Choice Voting is applied in much in the same way as a single-seat election, with the simple and effective addition of transferring a winning candidates' surplus votes to second preferences. To win, candidates must receive a minimum threshold of support. Some candidates might win with first-choice support, but most depend on second and third choices as well. This fosters more inclusive campaigns.

Here's how it works:

1. The threshold to win is determined by dividing the total number of voters by the number of seats plus 1, then adding 1. For example, in the Minneapolis Park Board at-large race for 3 seats, the threshold is 25% + 1 vote (1/(3+1) + 1). In the two-seat Board of Estimate and Taxation race, the threshold is 33% (1/(2+1) + 1).

2. Round 1 of counting begins, tallying first choices for all candidates.

3. Just as in the single-seat council races, if no candidate reaches this threshold in the first round, the last-placed candidate is defeated and the ballots for this candidate are reassigned based on the next choices on those voters’ ballots. If a candidate reaches the winning threshold, he or she wins and any “surplus” votes that candidate has are reassigned proportionally to the next choices on those voters’ ballots. In the example graphic below, Carlos won 18 (or 40%) more votes than needed to win the election, so 40% of each vote Carlos received is reassigned to those voters' second choices. Of the 45 people who ranked Carlos their #1 choice, 15 ranked David their #2 choice; 40% of 15 is 6 votes, so David is therefore awarded 6 more votes.

(Imagine it like this: You have $1.00 to buy your favorite candy bar. But if that candy bar only costs 60 cents, you get to put your other 40 cents toward your second favorite candy bar. The same process applies with RCV in multi-seat elections: If your #1 choice candidate reaches the threshold of votes needed to win, his or her surplus votes are divided proportionately according to percentage and then awarded to those voters second choices.)

4. This process continues until all seats are filled.















Advantages of using RCV in multi-seat races: 

  • When using RCV to elect two or more winners in a district, RCV ensures more people are represented by someone they voted for. In a single-seat race, at least 50 percent of the voters will elect the winner. In a two-seat race, at least 66% percent will help elect the winner and in a three-seat race, at least 75 percent and so on. In this way, multi-seat RCV is more inclusive and greatly expands representation.
  • Multi-seat RCV also ensures fewer wasted votes. This is because any surplus votes a winner doesn't need are reassigned to other candidates still in the race until all seats are filled. This process ensures that the majority of voters elect the majority of candidates while also giving smaller voting blocks an opporutnity to elect someone they voted for.
  • Last, but not least, first choices can’t be harmed by second or third choices. Under the traditional plurality at-large system, voting equally for more than one candidate can harm your preferred candidate. The only way to prevent this from happening is to bullet vote, which is a common strategic practice under the traditional system. In an RCV race, your second and third choices cannot harm your first choice. Your second and third choices only count once your first choice is elected or defeated.

For more information, check out this MPR video on how RCV works in multiple winner elections.

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