Does RCV respect the principle of "one person, one vote"?


Yes. Under Ranked Choice Voting, every voter gets exactly one vote, and each vote is treated equally. Like a runoff election, a vote under RCV initially counts for the voter’s first choice.  If that candidate is eliminated, the vote will transfer to the voter’s next choice of a candidate that is still in the running. In fact, the academic name for RCV is the “single transferable vote” — emphasis on single — and the value of that single vote does not change at any stage in the process.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in 2011, writing unanimously in Dudum v. Arntz:

“In fact, the option to rank multiple preferences is not the same as providing additional votes, or more heavily-weighted votes, relative to other votes cast. Each ballot is counted as no more than one vote at each tabulation step, … and each vote attributed to a candidate, whether a first-, second- or third-rank choice, is afforded the same mathematical weight in the election.”

Misconceptions about unequal treatment under RCV may stem from examples of voters who do not rank all the candidates. For instance, a voter may rank only their first choice, omitting the other candidates from the ballot because they have no preference between them. Some may incorrectly claim that this voter is being discriminated against. 

To the contrary, this voter is choosing to not express a preference between the remaining candidates — to abstain — and therefore has the same opportunity as those who choose to mark a preference. This is equivalent to a voter who chooses not to vote in a runoff election because their favorite candidate didn’t make it past the first round. The opportunity to vote for a candidate in the final round is open to all.

After the historic use of Ranked Choice Voting in Maine in 2018, the issue was reviewed yet again by a federal court. In Baber v Dunlap, the US District Court of Maine concluded:

“‘One person, one vote’ does not stand in opposition to ranked balloting.”

And no court has ever found otherwise.

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