IRV Demonstration Vote using the 2008 Presidential Primary candidates

Sponsored by the Electoral Reform Working Group


The GPCA promotes the use of a class of elections systems called "ranked ballot voting." Rather than being limited to casting your vote for just one choice on the ballot, ranked voting allows you to rank all candidates in order of preference. Then, if your first-choice candidate is eliminated, your vote transfers to your second choice.

The specific method we are demonstrating here is commonly called "Instant Runoff Voting" (IRV), which is applicable to single-seat races (such as President, Governor or Mayor), as opposed to multi-seat races (such as a City Council or County Board of Supervisors).

Through a series of candidate eliminations and vote transfers, the final winner in this mock primary election is chosen by receiving the highest rankings from the most voters.

There are many advantages to ranked ballot voting:

  • Vote your conscience, not your fears. Your first-choice vote can be the person you really favor. If that candidate is eliminated, your vote transfers to your second choice, which can be a more pragmatic selection.
  • True majority winner. The ultimate winner has received approval votes from a majority of voters in one election round. You do not need a second, runoff election. You do not have to settle for a plurality election, where the candidate with the most votes wins even if he/she did not cross the 50% threshold.
  • No more "spoiler" effect. For example, a less-popular progressive candidate will not split votes away from a more-popular progressive candidate, which can result in the election of a conservative candidate who now gets more votes than the more-popular progressive candidate.


The results came out pretty typical for this kind of race. In the Green Party Primary, two candidates (McKinney and Nader) received the predominance of the votes and ended up being the only real competitors. And McKinney had the lead in the first round and stayed ahead to the finish.

But, IRV has confirmed that McKinney had broad support past the first round and was truly the voters' preferred choice in this mock election. If this race had been for a local office, the 1st round results would have triggered a runoff election, since no candidate had a majority. Using IRV would have prevented the need for a second election.


The figure below shows the results of each round of voting, and the transfers from round to round. There were 240 valid votes cast, so 121 votes were needed to win.
In round 1, candidate Johnson plus seven write-ins who received just one vote were eliminated for a total of 8 votes transferred to round 2. This elimination and transfer are colored green in the figure. Note that these write-in voters can do this without fear of their vote being wasted.
In round 2, write-in candidate Kucinich was eliminated, having received two votes. This elimination and transfer are colored blue in the figure.
In round 3, candidate Swift was eliminated. Her six votes were transferred as shown by the color purple.
In round 4, candidates Brown and Ball were eliminated, each having received seven votes. The 14 votes transferred are shown in yellow.
In round 5, candidate Mesplay was eliminated. His 24 votes included 14 next-choices for McKinney. This is shown in tan. These votes put McKinney past the winning threshold of 121 in the round 6 totals.

We have the details of how each voters' vote was transfered from round to round. You'll see the same color pattern used to identify the rounds. Most voters never had a transfer. But 42 of the voters were spared having their votes wasted by its transfer to their next choice. Some voters had five of six transfers, but their vote ultimately helped determine the outcome.