Ranked Choice Voting / Preferential Voting

ezVote now offers Ranked Choice voting methods, making it easy for you to determine the most popular winners among your candidates.

What is Ranked Choice or Preferential Voting?

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is basically allowing your voters to 'Rank' the candidates on their ballot with their favorite at the top. With ezVote, you can limit them to a certain number of selections, or let them rank all of the candidates.

RCV is also known as Preferential voting. With RCV, you can allow your voters to choose their true choices without fear of them wasting their vote on a less-popular candidate. This eliminates 'spoiler' candidates.

With RCV there are many methods used for calculating the winning candidates of an election, including:

  • Plurality (First Past the Post)
  • Run-Off
  • Instant Run-Off
  • Condorcet
  • Borda Count
  • Single Transferable Voting (STV)
  • Single Transferable Voting (STV) w/ Borda elimination
  • Meek Style STV
  • Meek Style STV w/ Borda elimination

... just to name a few.

Which method should I use?

There is no 'one perfect method'. No method is better at selecting a winning candidate over another - it's just a matter of how well the method suits the organization.

There are some methods that will, in fact, give you different results simply based on the order in which the ballots are counted. We have chosen NOT to offer those methods.

For each one of the methods we provide, we offer a full explanation of how each of the methods will tally the ballots, and include the computations for your peace of mind.

Just keep in mind that RCV allows each voter to select their preferred candidate(s) without fear of their vote being wasted!

Now let's take a brief look at each of the methods offered...


Plurality (aka: First Past the Post) is not really intended to be an RCV tally method.

This method simply counts all the number of 1st place choices (consider the case where the voter could only choose/rank a single candidate). Simply add up the number of votes for each candidate that was ranked #1, and the candidate(s) with the most votes wins.


The Run-Off method usually selects a single winner from a list of candidates.

Similar to the Plurality method, the Run-Off method basically determines the top 1 or 2 candidates.
If the first place candidate receives a majority of the votes, they are declared the winner.
Otherwise, the top two candidates are put on a second ballot, and voters are required to vote again.

Thinking back to the old days of paper ballots, this concept was easy to understand, and made it easy to count ballots. But, while it was easier and it removed any spoiler candidates, it also created twice as much work for everybody!

Instant Run-Off

Similar to the Run-Off method, if there is no majority winner, then another Run-Off round is executed, but this time the 1st-round ballots are re-counted considering only the two qualifying candidates (all others are ignored).

This mitigates the voters from having to re-cast another ballot, and the run-off round is instantaneously generated from the voters' original ranked-choice ballots! (Again, removing spoiler candidates.)

Condorcet [kon-DOHR-say] Winner

With the Condorcet method, the candidates are evaluated on their head-to-head competition with all the other candidates.

The candidate(s) that beats all the other candidates in head-to-head match is/are the winner(s). (This method is sometimes used as the 'acid test' for all the other methods, to see if the 'real' winners bubble to the top.)

The head-to-head comparison is done on a candidate-vs-candidate basis. Each candidate is ranked (above or below) every other candidate on every ballot. That candidate-vs-candidate score (for each pair of competing candidates) is sorted, and the candidates beating all the other candidates are the winners.

The Condorcet method does however come with a drawback. Suppose Candidate-A beats Candidate-B, and Candidate-B beats Candidate-C. It would stand to reason that Candidate-A should also beat Candidate-C, but that's not always the case. If Candidate-C beats Candidate-A, then we have a 'Condorcet Paradox' (A beats B beats C beats A).

Borda Count Method

The Borda Count Method is intended to elect broadly acceptable candidates, rather than those preferred by a majority, and so is often described as a Consensus-Based voting system rather than a majoritarian one. It tends to favor candidates supported by a broad consensus among voters, rather than the candidate who is necessarily the favorite of a majority.

Votes are not transferred (as with STV), but instead are ranked (per ballot) and the candidates are scored relatively.

Scoring, is generally done by giving a certain number of points to each 1st ranked candidate, one less point for 2nd, and so on. The points are accumulated, and the highest scored candidates are declared as the winners. (In some versions of Borda, they assign 1 point to the 1st-ranked candidate, 2 points for 2nd, etc., and the candidate with the least points wins.)

ezVote uses a slightly different version of this method wherein we assign 1 point to the last ranked candidate, 2 points to the next-to-last, and so on. Candidates not ranked by the voter receive no points. This makes the math easy to comprehend, especially when voter weighting is thrown into the mix. This also prevents the voters from 'gaming' the election by trying to cast a vote for only a single candidate.

Single Transferable Voting (STV)

The Single Transferable Voting (STV) method is intended to elect candidates for Proportional Representation (PR), ensuring that *all* segments of the voting population are represented (proportionally), instead of the majority sweeping the election. Furthermore, STV ensures that a 'less popular' candidate won't skew the outcome of an election by *splitting the vote*. For example, if Andy & Bob are both running for Party-A (Bob being the less popular candidate), and Charlie is running for Party-B any votes cast for Bob, assuming he doesn't get enough votes to win, will be transferred up to Andy. Now Andy and Charlie can run against each other, each with 100% of their party's votes.

STV (vs. Borda) Counting more accurately selects winners based on the consensus of the voters as a group. While the math and the formulas for STV are more difficult to understand, the take-away is that STV selects proportionally representative winners rather than majoritarian winners.

Note that our system calculates the Quorum (Q), based on the DROOP formula, with a slight modification which yields a fraction rather than an integer. The original DROOP formula (that defines Q as an integer) made it easier to count in the days before computers. Nowadays, our computer calculations are done with 11 digits of precision, yielding Q as a fraction which eliminates round-off errors.

Meek Style STV

Similar to STV, Meek Style does not throw away used votes for seated candidates, but instead candidates continue to receive votes and transfer surplus votes throughout the counting - no ballot is wasted.

Meek STV is more fair as votes are never discarded (as with basic STV) - every vote counts! The math on this gets incredibly complex, but the computers can do the calculations in a fraction of a second.

STV or Meek w/ Borda elimination

To expand upon all of the above methods, and choose the best parts of each method, we can combine the Transferable Vote method with the Borda Count method to create a hybrid method.

When calculating winners with the STV methods, it's sometimes necessary to eliminate candidates with the lowest vote count. In basic STV & Meek, those eliminations are done by the current round of scoring.

But using "Borda Elimination", we take an initial snapshot of candidate scoring (Borda Counts) and choose the lowest scoring candidate to eliminate when necessary. While still even more computations are necessary, this improves the process by eliminating the obvious losers first.

Note that ezVote uses the "MEEK STV w/ BORDA ELIMINATION" as its default RCV method.


Still not sure which method to use?

ezVote offers a Comparison chart with the results of your election calculated by each of the methods explained above.

Once your election is over, simply click that 'Show Results' button. For each RCV type question on your ballot, you can see the different methods, how they're calculated, and how each stacks up against the others.

No other voting service offers this type of comprehensive and easy-to-use Ranked Choice Voting system!