Academic research on ranked-choice voting

This bibliography lists recent, scholarly research on ranked-choice voting (RCV), also widely known as “preferential voting.” I maintain the page for researchers and policymakers doing literature reviews, scans, and other sorts of “deep dives.”

For now, the list is limited to empirical, peer-reviewed research about RCV in the United States, written from about 1980 to present. I set 1980 as a cutoff because that is roughly when people began using “modern” research methods to address the topic.

There is much that I do not include, but contact me to learn about it. I do not cover an extensive advocacy literature, nor explicitly prescriptive work in the voting-rights fields of political science and law. I do not cover non-peer-reviewed technical reports, of which there are many. I do not cover formal theory without hypothesis tests — unless that work derives a method for doing some task (e.g., an election audit). Nor do I cover an old, vast, and fragmented literature on the history of these reforms — only the recent, book-length treatments.

This page has the following sections:

  1. Other names for RCV
  2. Burdens on voters
  3. Burdens on election officials
  4. Mass opinion on RCV
  5. Effects on parties and candidates
  6. Causes of adoption and/or repeal
  7. Major histories of RCV use in the United States

Other names for RCV

When applied to a single-winner election, ranked-choice or preferential voting is known as “instant-runoff voting” (IRV) or the alternative vote (AV). Close cousins of single-winner RCV include the limited preferential vote (LPV), as used in Papua New Guinea, and the supplementary vote (SV), as used to elect the Mayor of London, England.

When applied to an election with more than one winner, RCV refers to the single transferable vote (STV), a candidate-based rule that approximates proportional representation. In the United States, some have referred to STV as the “Hare system,” named for Thomas Hare (one of its many inventors), or “choice voting.”

AV and STV are mathematically equivalent. The only difference between them is the number of seats in a district, which determines how many votes a candidate needs to win. The larger the district, the lower the threshold. For example, in a district of four seats, the threshold is 20 percent plus one vote: [(valid votes cast)/(seats in district + 1)] + 1 vote. In a district of one seat, the quota is a majority: 50 percent plus one vote. That is how you end up with the standard “instant runoff” — if no candidate has a majority in the first round, we look at voters’ second choices. It is possible to force the majority quota to work for a multi-seat district, but this is very rare.

Burdens on voters

Burnett, Craig M., and Vladimir Kogan. 2015. “Ballot (and Voter) ‘Exhaustion’ under Instant Runoff Voting: An Examination of four Ranked-choice Elections.” Electoral Studies 37:41–49.

McDaniel, Jason A. 2016. “Writing the Rules to Rank the Candidates: Examining the Impact of Instant-Runoff Voting on Racial Group Turnout in San Francisco Mayoral Elections.” Journal of Urban Affairs 38 (3): 387–408.

Neely, Francis, and Corey Cook. 2008. “Whose Votes Count? Undervotes, Overvotes, and Ranking in San Francisco’s Instant-runoff Elections.” American Politics Research 36 (4): 530–554.

Neely, Francis, and Jason A. McDaniel. 2015. “Overvoting and the Equality of Voice under Instant-Runoff Voting in San Francisco.” California Journal of Politics & Policy 7 (4): 1–27.

Burdens on election officials

Beckert, Bernhard, Michael Kirsten, Vladimir Klebanov, and Carsten Schürmann. 2017. “Automatic Margin Computation for Risk-Limiting Audits.” In: Krimmer R. et al. (eds) Electronic Voting. E-Vote-ID 2016. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 10141. Springer, Cham

Mass opinion on RCV

Nielson, Lindsay. 2017. “Ranked Choice Voting and Attitudes Toward Democracy in the United States: Results From a Survey Experiment.” Politics & Policy 45 (4): 535–70.

Effects on parties and candidates

Donovan, Todd, Caroline Tolbert, and Kellen Gracey. 2016. “Campaign Civility under Preferential and Plurality Voting.” Electoral Studies 42:157– 163.

Santucci, Jack. 2018. “Evidence of a Winning-cohesion Tradeoff under Multi-winner Ranked-choice Voting.” Electoral Studies (early online version).

Causes of adoption and/or repeal

Amy, Douglas J. 1996. “The Forgotten History of the Single Transferable Vote in the United States.” Representation 34 (1): 13–20.

Santucci, Jack. 2017. “Party Splits, not Progressives: The Origins of Proportional Representation in American Local Government.” American Politics Research 45 (3): 494–526.

Weaver, Leon. 1986. “The Rise, Decline, and Resurrection of Proportional Representation in Local Governments in the United States.” Chap. 8 in Electoral Laws and their Political Consequences, edited by Bernard Grofman and Arend Lijphart, 139–153. New York, NY: Agathon Press.

Major histories of RCV use in the United States

Barber, Kathleen, ed. 1995. Proportional Representation and Election Reform in Ohio. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.

Prosterman, Daniel O. 2013. Defining Democracy: Electoral Reform and the Struggle for Power in New York City. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.