Academic research on ranked-choice voting

Last updated on November 12, 2018.

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:

  1. Empirical and peer-reviewed research on 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. (Exceptions are Gosnell’s two studies and one of ballot spoilage by Rodney L. Mott.) These works are grouped as follows: literature reviews, burdens on voters (e.g., voter error, drop-off), burdens on election administrators (e.g., when doing audits), mass perceptions of RCV, effects on descriptive representation, effects on the party system and how candidates fit into it, and why RCV was adopted or repealed.
  2. Recent histories of RCV. These appear in two sections: those that meet the 1980 cutoff, then a second set written after about 1945.

I am not including the following, though I can point you to much of it:

  1. Advocacy literature, nor explicitly prescriptive work in the voting-rights fields of political science and law.
  2. Technical reports commissioned by local governments, of which there are many.
  3. Formal-theoretic literature without hypothesis tests (e.g., much but not all social choice), unless that work derives a method for doing some task (e.g., an election audit).
  4. Literature from comparative politics on STV and the Alternative Vote, just because there is too much to keep this page digestible to most who might consult it.
  5. A vast, pro-reform literature from the Populist Era, Progressive Era, and early 1930s.

In time, it may be sensible to separate these works according to whether they cover the single- or multi-winner form of RCV. I cover that distinction just below. Readers interested in old, unpublished works (on multi-winner RCV) can consult this page.

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; the supplementary vote (SV), as used to elect the Mayor of London (UK); and Bucklin voting, used during the Progressive Era in several US states and around 30 cities. (Why that happened is interesting and worth looking at.)

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.

Literature reviews

Kimball, David C. and Joseph Anthony. 2017. “Ranked Choice Voting: A Different Way of Casting and Counting Votes.” Ch. 8 in Changing How America Votes, edited by Todd Donovan. Rowman & Littlefield.

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.

Mott, Rodney L. 1926. “Invalid Ballots Under the Hare System of Proportional Representation.” American Political Science Review 20(4): 874-882.

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

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

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 descriptive representation

John, Sarah E., Haley Smith, and Elizabeth Zack. 2018. “The Alternative Vote: Do Changes in Single-member Voting Systems Affect Descriptive Representation of Women and Minorities?” Electoral Studies 54: 90-102.

Gosnell, Harold F. 1930. “Motives for Voting as Shown by the Cincinnati P.R. Election of 1929.” National Municipal Review 19 (7): 471-476.

McDaniel, Jason. 2018. “Does More Choice Lead to Reduced Racially Polarized Voting? Assessing the Impact of Ranked-Choice Voting in Mayoral Elections.” California Journal of Politics and Policy 10 (2).

Effects on parties and candidates

Alvarez, R. Michael, Thad E. Hall, and Ines Levin. 2018. “Low-information Voting: Evidence from Instant-runoff Elections.” American Politics Research, early online version.

Blais, André, Maxime Héroux-Legault, Laura Stephenson, William Cross, and Elisabeth Gidengil. 2012. “Assessing the Psychological and Mechanical Impact of Electoral Rules: A Quasi-experiment.” Electoral Studies 31 (4): 157–163.

Eggers, Andrew C. and Benjamin E. Lauderdale. 2016. “Simulating Counterfactual Representation.” Political Analysis 24 (2): 281-290.

Gosnell, Harold F. 1939. “A List System with Single Candidate Preference.” American Political Science Review 33 (4): 645-650.

Latner, Michael S. and Kyle Roach. 2011. “Mapping the Consequences of Electoral Reform.” California Journal of Politics and Policy 3 (1): 1-22.

Nagel, Jack H. 2006. “The Burr Dilemma in Approval Voting.” Journal of Politics 69 (1): 43-58.

Robb, Denise Munro. 2011. The Effect of Instant Runoff Voting on Democracy. Doctoral dissertation. University of California, Irvine.

Reilly, Benjamin. 2018. “Centripetalism and Electoral Moderation in Established Democracies.” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 24 (2): 201-21.

Santucci, Jack. 2018. “Evidence of a Winning-cohesion Tradeoff under Multi-winner Ranked-choice Voting.” Electoral Studies 52: 128-138.

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.

Engstrom, Richard L. 1990. “Cincinnati’s 1988 Proportional Representation Initiative.” Electoral Studies 9 (3): 217-225.

Henry, Madeline Alys. 2016. The Implementation and Effects of Ranked Choice Voting in California Cities. Master’s thesis. California State University, Sacramento.

Reilly, Benjamin. 2004. “The Global Spread of Preferential Voting: Australian Institutional Imperialism?” Australian Journal of Political Science 39 (2): 253-66.

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

Santucci, Jack. 2018. “Maine Ranked-choice Voting as a Case of Electoral-system Change.” Representation, early online version.

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.

Recently written histories of RCV use in the United States

Amy, Douglas J. 2002. Real Choices / New Voices: How Proportional Representation Elections Could Revitalize American Democracy, 2nd edition. New York: Columbia University Press.

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

Burnham, Robert A. 1997. “Reform, Politics, and Race in Cincinnati: Proportional Representation and the City Charter Committee, 1924-1959.” Journal of Urban History 23, no. 2 (January): 131–163.

Burnham, Robert A. 2013. “Women and Reform in Cincinnati: Responsible Citizenship and the Politics of ‘Good Government,’ 1924–1955.” Ohio Valley History 13 (2): 48–69.

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

Older histories (post-war) of RCV use in the United States

Shaw, Frederick. 1954. The History of the New York City Legislature. New York: Columbia University Press.

Straetz, Ralph A. 1958. PR Politics in Cincinnati: Thirty-two Years of City Government through Proportional Representation. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Zeller, Belle, and Hugh A. Bone. 1948. “The Repeal of PR in New York City: Ten Years in Retrospect.” American Political Science Review 42, no. 6 (December): 1127–48.