Press Release: New Analysis Shows Ranked-Choice Voting Fails to Live Up to Its Promises


New Analysis Shows Ranked-Choice Voting Fails to Produce
a True Majority Winner and Falls Short of Other Claims

PORTLAND, Maine – The Maine Heritage Policy Center today released its newest report, “A False Majority: The Failed Experiment of Ranked-Choice Voting,” which explores the use of ranked-choice voting in jurisdictions throughout the country, including Maine, to determine if the voting system lives up to its promises.

In the report, policy analysts Adam Crepeau and Liam Sigaud examine data from 96 ranked-choice voting elections held throughout the U.S., where more than one round of tabulation was necessary to declare a winner, to determine:

·On average, approximately 11 percent of ballots become exhausted: Exhausted ballots occur when a voter overvotes, undervotes, or exhausts their choices. When a ballot becomes exhausted, it no longer counts toward the final denominator used to determine a majority winner; it’s as if these voters (more than 10 percent of the voting electorate) never showed up on Election Day.

This finding excludes exhausted ballots in the first round of tabulation because voters could make the same mistake in a plurality election. Exhausted ballots in the second and subsequent rounds of tabulation are purely a consequence of using ranked-choice voting.

·The eventual winner wins with a fake majority 61 percent of the time: In the average ranked-choice voting election where a candidate fails to receive a majority of the votes cast in the first round, the prevalence of exhausted ballots is so significant that it is most likely the eventual winner wins without a true majority of the votes cast on Election Day.

·Ranked-choice voting disenfranchises minorities and other demographics: Research shows that older voters are more likely to make ballot-marking mistakes under ranked-choice voting, yet the system has been deployed in the oldest state in the country. In addition, the complexity of ranked-choice voting, both in terms of filling out the ballot and understanding the policy differences between candidates without the benefit of a one-on-one matchup, has been shown to reduce the electoral influence of African American and Latino voters, as well as voters with less education and those whose first language is not English.

·Had the 96 elections we analyzed been decided by a plurality of the votes, 87 percent of the outcomes would remain the same: The end result of elections decided by ranked-choice voting closely mirrors the outcome that would be produced under traditional voting systems, begging the question of whether ranked-choice voting is worth the hassle it creates for voters and state government.

·Independent expenditures to oppose candidates surged in Maine under ranked-choice voting while supporting expenditures dropped significantly: In Maine’s 2018 gubernatorial primary election, independent expenditures to support a candidate declined by 40 percent compared to the 2014 cycle while expenditures to oppose increased by 100 percent. Additionally, the 2018 Second Congressional District election saw a 24 percent increase in opposition expenditures compared to the same contest in 2016 and a 341 percent increase compared to the 2014 cycle.

While this data does not provide sufficient evidence that ranked-choice voting increases negative campaigning, it casts serious doubt on the claim that ranked-choice voting improves the tone and civility of political campaigns. Available data in Maine show a clear increase in independent expenditures to oppose candidates in the 2018 cycle under ranked-choice voting.

“Whether you examine the data captured during Maine’s brief experience with ranked-choice voting or the experiences of other states and municipalities, the lofty claims used to sell this voting system to the people of Maine do not withstand factual scrutiny,” said Crepeau, the primary author of the report.

When the issue of ranked-choice voting appeared on Mainers’ ballots in 2016, the initiative faced no formalized opposition and its supporters made numerous bold claims about how the system would improve Maine elections.

Specifically, proponents of ranked-choice voting said the system would produce majority winners, reduce negative campaigning, increase voter turnout and bolster the influence of third-party candidates. One by one, “A False Majority” debunks these claims using state and municipal election data from jurisdictions that have implemented ranked-choice voting.

“Mainers deserve a full picture of what ranked-choice voting entails,” CEO Matthew Gagnon said. “Like many ballot initiatives passed in recent years, ranked-choice voting comes with consequences that were not fully explored before Mainers were asked to vote.”

The report also highlights the experiences of five jurisdictions that enacted and later repealed their ranked-choice voting laws, including Burlington, Vermont; Ann Arbor, Michigan; North Carolina; Aspen, Colorado and Pierce County, Washington.

Click here to read the full report

Click here to read a condensed version (15 pages, 20-minute read)


The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization dedicated to freeing people from dependency, creating prosperity, and redefining the role of government. MHPC formulates and promotes free-market public policies in the areas of health care, education, regulations, government transparency and tax and fiscal policy. To learn more about MHPC or review our policy work, visit: