Academic research on ranked-choice voting

Last updated on September 8, 2020.

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.”

Topics covered include: general overviews, 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descriptive representation, effects on the party system and how candidates fit into it, and why RCV was adopted and/or repealed. I also have added a handful of non-RCV items that speak closely to RCV (e.g., on vote choice in crowded fields).

For now, the list is limited to:

  1. All empirical and peer-reviewed research on RCV in the United States, written from about 1980 to present. There are four exceptions to the 1980 cutoff. All are rigorously quantitative: three on the use and/or importance of lower rankings (by Gallagher or Gosnell) and one on invalid ballots (by Mott).
  2. Selected such research on RCV in other countries, yet likely to be useful to an American audience. The amount of comparative work on RCV forces judgment calls. Contact me if you think some book or article should be listed.
  3. Selected research not explicitly on RCV, but with clear implications for how it should or should not be implemented.
  4. 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.
  3. Formal-theoretic literature without hypothesis tests, unless that work derives a method for doing some task (e.g., an election audit). See for some of the social-choice literature.
  4. A vast, pro-reform literature from the Populist Era, Progressive Era, and early 1930s.

In time, it may make sense to separate items by whether they cover the single- or multi-winner form. 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 Readers interested in old, unpublished works (on multi-winner RCV) can consult this page.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 rule that approximates proportional representation by minimizing wasted votes (i.e., votes that do not help elect a candidate). 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 quota. For example, in a district of four seats, the quota 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.

Update as of 2020-01-13: Another form of RCV, known technically as “preferential block voting,” combines single-winner’s majoritarian properties with multi-seat districts. To the casual observer, this looks a lot like STV, but it does not prioritize minority representation. A discussion of this system (and related variants) appears in Farrell and McAllister (2006), just below.

General overviews

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

Bowler, Shaun and Bernard Grofman, eds. 2000. Elections in Australia, Ireland, and Malta under the Single Transferable Vote: Reflections on an Embedded Institution. University of Michigan Press.

Carty, R. Kenneth. 1981. Party and Parish Pump: Electoral Politics in Ireland. Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Drutman, Lee. 2020. Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Farrell, David M., Malcolm Mackerras, and Ian McAllister. 1996. “Designing Electoral Institutions: STV Systems and their Consequences.” Political Studies 44 (1): 24-43.

Farrell, David M. and Ian McAllister, eds. 2006. The Australian Electoral System: Origins, Variations, and Consequences. University of New South Wales Press.

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.

Maloy, Jason S. 2019. Smarter Ballots: Electoral Realism and Reform. Palgrave MacMillan.

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.

Clark, Alistair. 2013. “Second Time Lucky? The Continuing Adaption of Voters and Parties to the Single Transferable Vote in Scotland.” Representation 49 (3).

Curtice, John and Michael Marsh. 2014. “Confused or Competent? How Voters Use the STV Ballot Paper.” Electoral Studies 34.

Denver, David, Alistair Clark, and Lynn Bennie. 2009. “Voter Reactions to a Preferential Ballot: The 2007 Scottish Local Elections.” Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties 19 (3).

Donovan, Todd, Caroline Tolbert, and Kellen Gracey. 2019. “Self-reported Understanding of Ranked-choice Voting.” Social Science Quarterly (early online version).

Endersby, James W. and Michael J. Towle. 2014. “Making Wasted Votes Count: Turnout, Transfers, and Preferential Voting in Practice.” Electoral Studies 33: 144-152.

Kilgour, D. Marc, Jean-Charles Grégoire, and Angèle M. Foley. 2019. “The Prevalence and Consequences of Ballot Truncation in Ranked-choice Elections.” Public Choice (early online version).

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.

Orr, Graeme. 2002. “Ballot Order: Donkey Voting in Australia.” Election Law Journal 1 (4): 573–78.

Shineman, Victoria Anne. 2018. “If You Mobilize Them, They Will Become Informed: Experimental Evidence that Information Acquisition Is Endogenous to Costs and Incentives to Participate.” British Journal of Political Science 48 (1): 189-211.

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

Gilmour, James. 2007. “Detailed Description of the STV Count in Accordance with the Rules in the Scottish Local Government Elections Order 2007.” Representation 43 (3).

Mass opinion on RCV

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

Farrell, David M. and Ian McAllister. 2006. “Voter Satisfaction and Electoral Systems: Does Preferential Voting in Candidate-centred Systems Make a Difference?” European Journal of Political Research 45 (5): 723-749.

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

Buckley, Fiona, Yvonne Galligan, and Claire McGing. 2015. “Is Local Office a Springboard for Women to Dáil Éireann?” Journal of Women, Politics & Policy 36 (3): 311-335.

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.

Crowder-Meyer, Melody, Shana Kushner Gadarian, and Jessica Trounstine. 2019. “Voting Can Be Hard, Information Helps.” Urban Affairs Review, early online version.

Hirczy, Wolfgang. 1995. “STV and the Representation of Women.” PS: Political Science & Politics 28 (4).

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

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.

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).

McGing, Claire. 2013. “The Single Transferable Vote and Women’s Representation in Ireland.” Irish Political Studies 28 (3): 322-340.

Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie A., Michael Malecki, and Brian F. Crisp. 2010. “Candidate Gender and Electoral Success in Single Transferable Vote Systems.” British Journal of Political Science 40 (3).

Effects on party systems and campaign strategy

Alvarez, R. Michael, Thad E. Hall, and Ines Levin. 2018. “Low-information Voting: Evidence from Instant-runoff Elections.” American Politics Research 46 (6).

Bennie, Lynn. 2006. “Transition to STV: Scottish Local Government Elections 2007.” Representation 42 (4).

Bennie, Lynn and Alistair Clark. 2008. “The Transformation of Local Politics? STV and the 2007 Scottish Local Government Elections.” Representation 44 (3).

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.

Clark, Alistair and Lynn Bennie. 2008. “Strategic Actors or Muddling Through? Political Parties, Local Campaigning and the Single Transferable Vote.” Representation 44 (4).

Clark, Alistair. 2012. “Party Organization and Concurrent Multi-level Local Campaigning: The 2007 Scottish Elections under MMP and STV.” Party Politics 18 (4).

Curtice, John and Michael Marsh. 2008. How Did They Vote? Voters’ Use of the STV Ballot Paper in the 2007 Scottish Local Elections.” Representation 44 (4).

Coakley, John and Jon Fraenkel. 2017. “The Ethnic Implications of Preferential Voting.” Government & Opposition 52 (4): 671-697.

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

Farrell, David M. and Richard S. Katz. 2014. “Assessing the Proportionality of the Single Transferable Vote” Representation 50 (1): 13-26.

Gallagher, Michael. 1978. “Party Solidarity, Exclusivity and Inter-Party Relationships in Ireland, 1922-1977: The Evidence of Transfers.” Economic and Social Review 10 (1): 1-22.

Gallagher, Michael. 1979. “The Impact of Lower Preference Votes on Irish Parliamentary Elections, 1922-1977.” Economic and Social Review 11 (1): 19—32.

Gallagher, Michael. 1986. “The Political Consequences of the Single Transferable Vote in the Republic of Ireland.” Electoral Studies 5 (3): 253-275.

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

Jansen, Harold J. 2004. “The Political Consequences of the Alternative Vote: Lessons from Western Canada.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 37 (3): 647-669.

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

Marsh, Michael. 2007. “Candidates or Parties? Objects of Electoral Choice in Ireland.” Party Politics 13 (4): 500-527.

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 (non)adoption and/or repeal

Curtice, John. 2007. “STV Goes Tartan: A Preliminary Analysis of its Use in the 2007 Scottish Elections.” Representation 43 (3).

DeLeon, Richard, Steven Hill, and Lisel Blash. 1998. “The Campaign for Proposition H and Preference Voting in San Francisco, 1996.” Representation 35 (4): 265-274.

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

Farrell, David M. and Ian McAllister. 2005. “1902 and the Origins of Preferential Electoral Systems in Australia.” Australian Journal of Politics and History 51 (2): 155-167.

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

Lucas, Jack. 2019. “Reaction or Reform? Subnational Evidence on P.R. Adoption from Canadian Cities.” Representation, early online version.

Pilon, Dennis. 2013. Wrestling With Democracy: Voting Systems as Politics in the Twentieth-Century West. University of Toronto Press.

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 54 (3).

Other relevant items on potentially unintended effects

Berinsky, Adam. 2005. “The Perverse Consequences of Electoral Reform in the United States.” American Politics Research 33 (4).

Bridges, Amy and Richard Kronick. 1999. “Writing the Rules to Win the Game: The Middle-class Regimes of Municipal Reformers.” Urban Affairs Review 34 (5).

McGhee, Eric and Boris Shor. 2017. “Has the Top Two Primary Elected More Moderates?” Perspectives on Politics 15 (4): 1053-1066.

Trebbi, Francesco, Philippe Aghion, and Alberto Alesina. 2008. “Electoral Rules and Minority Representation in U.S. Cities.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 123 (1): 325-357.

Recently written histories of RCV use in the United States

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

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.

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.

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.