By Howie Fain

Rank the Vote is proud to publish this historical overview of ranked choice voting in the US, authored by Howie Fain. A retired public school teacher from Worcester, Massachusetts, Howie was a co-founder of FairVote in 1992. Find more of Howie’s work at

This ranked choice voting history will be published serially, once a week, in nine installments that bring us up through the end of the twentieth century. We hope the history that unfolds in these installments is as revelatory and inspiring for you as it was for us. This is the first installment in the series

Introducing The Cast

Most of the ranked choice voting history in the United States involves proportional RCV. And most of that history relates to even longer standing problems with winner-take-all elections in this country, which proportional RCV was designed to fix. 

The two principal actors in this historical narrative have gone by different names at different times, and they became formally linked as “RCV” only recently. 

Proportional Ranked Choice Voting 

  • aka Single Transferable Vote (STV); 
  • aka Hare System; 
  • aka personal representation; 
  • aka multi-winner RCV; and 
  • aka Proportional Representation (PR), appropriating a generic voting system description for itself

Ranked Choice Voting

  • aka Alternative Vote; 
  • aka preferential voting
  • aka Instant Runoff Voting (IRV); and 
  • aka single-winner RCV

Both forms have also been known as choice voting, and preference voting, which also highlight their shared feature of allowing voters to rank the candidates on the ballot in order of preference. In so doing, they both fairly determine the rightful winner(s) from all competitors, in accordance with their respective goals, which are:

  • For proportional RCV, fairly allocating legislative seats in relation to votes won, in multimember districts. [RTV editor’s note: You can learn more about Proportional RCV (STV) in this blog.]
  • For instant runoff voting, finding voters’ true majority preference among multiple candidates in a single-winner election. [RTV editor’s note: You can learn more about Instant Runoff Voting in this blog.]

The rankings and tabulation methods mean that no matter the number of candidates, votes are not wasted, with no worry about “spoilers” affecting a fair outcome; each voter casts one effective vote in just one round of voting, though the ballots are counted in sequential rounds. Additionally, in the case of STV-PR, votes cannot be wasted on a candidate who wins more votes than are needed to win one of the available seats, with the surplus being applied to advance other candidates most preferred by those voters.

Now that we’re acquainted with the players, stay tuned for the next installment, “The Curtain Rises on US Elections, 1787-1842” which will publish on January 14.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Rank the Vote, its members, supporters, funders, or affiliates.