Q: In a nutshell,
what is VoteFair ranking?
A: VoteFair ranking uses order-of-preference ballots on which a voter
indicates not only a first choice, but a second choice, third choice,
and so on.
Based on all of this preference information, VoteFair ranking
calculates the popularity of all the candidates.
This means it reveals not only the most popular candidate,
but the second-most popular candidate, the third-most popular
candidate, and so on.
Very significantly the results calculated by VoteFair ranking are fair.
This fairness is a dramatic contrast to plurality voting and runoff voting, which are the primitive voting methods used in
the United States, Europe, and other democratic countries.
VoteFair ranking produces fair results even when there are three
or more candidates in a race. In contrast, plurality voting — in
which the candidate with the most votes wins — causes unfair
results because votes are split among the most similar candidates.
This unfairness was demonstrated in the 2000 Presidential election
because of the involvement of a somewhat-popular third candidate,
Why not use instant runoff voting instead?
A: The method of voting called "instant runoff voting" also allows voters to rank candidates, but for several reasons it does not produce fair results.
Most importantly, instant runoff voting does not consider all the preferences of all the voters. To understand this weakness, let's consider an example. Suppose there is an election involving four
candidates, and suppose most of the voters are somewhat equally divided
among the first three candidates, which means very few voters
indicate the fourth candidate as their first choice. In instant
runoff voting, that fourth candidate is eliminated in the
first simulated round of runoff voting.
But suppose all the voters who don't prefer the fourth candidate as their first choice do prefer him or her as their second choice.
In VoteFair ranking the widespread popularity of the
fourth candidate is recognized and the fourth candidate
is correctly revealed as the most popular. By contrast, instant runoff
voting not only fails to recognize the fourth candidate as the most
popular, but gives the false impression that the fourth candidate
is the least popular.
Also consider that VoteFair ranking reveals which candidate is
second-most popular, which candidate is third-most popular, and
which is least popular.
Instant runoff voting doesn't even attempt to determine
this additional information.
Another unfairness of instant runoff voting is that a voter is not
allowed to indicate an equal preference between two candidates.
In such cases the ballot is usually discarded as invalid.
At best the
ballot is ignored when (and if) that level of preference is reached.
By contrast, VoteFair ranking easily accommodates equal preferences
on a ballot. This difference is why the term "preference ballot" is
used for instant runoff voting and the term "order-of-preference ballot"
is used for VoteFair ranking.
wrong with today's methods of voting?
biggest problem with today's methods of voting is that their
weaknesses make election results vulnerable to manipulation
in ways that involve money, which of course comes from
Perhaps the best proof
of this influence is that wealthy organizations are very careful
about how they spend their money and they wouldn't waste their money
on campaign contributions if they weren't getting the results they want.
In the United States campaign
contributions from the insurance
industry and the traditional medical establishment have successfully undermined
popular efforts to improve health insurance, and contributions from the
petroleum industry have successfully prevented legislation that
would lead to improved automobile
fuel efficiency. Until public outrage from the organization Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD)
became prominent, contributions from alcoholic beverage producers successfully
minimized the consequences of drunk-driving convictions.
Q: What else
is wrong with today's methods of voting?
every election in nearly every democratic country uses
single-mark ballots, on
which a voter can mark only a single candidate's name as preferred.
This primitive practice forces many voters to choose between voting
strategically or sincerely.
In strategic voting you vote for the least objectionable candidate
among those who have a good chance of winning, even if you prefer
a candidate who is not as popular among the other voters.
Sincere voting consists of marking the candidate you prefer most.
Unfortunately your sincere vote is wasted if
the candidate is not popular enough to win.
In VoteFair ranking strategic voting doesn't work, so you can
vote sincerely. Specifically you can rank your favorite
candidate first without reducing your influence on the competition
between the more popular candidates.
Q: On an order-of-preference ballot, can I
just vote for one candidate in each race?
but that is equivalent to saying that all the other candidates are tied
for second choice. If you have any preference at all among the remaining
candidates, then indicating that preference helps your preferred choices
and detracts from the less-preferred candidates.
Q: Does VoteFair ranking have any disadvantages?
A: The main disadvantage is that voters need to learn to think beyond their
first choice. This is a new skill that most voters
have not yet learned. This may seem like a trivial skill
but, as a comparison, remember that in the early
days of answering machines
many people hung up when they reached one
because they didn't know what
to say to an answering machine. Someday
thinking beyond the first choice will become
just as effortless.
A second disadvantage is that
VoteFair ranking requires
many thousands of additions and comparisons,
but now that computers are readily accessible,
this disadvantage is no longer a barrier.
A third disadvantage is that voters must learn how
to indicate their order of preference on written
Voting can be done electronically in ways that do not
allow invalid votes,
but that approach requires the use of computers,
which is unacceptable for absentee voting and for
use in states where voting is done
entirely by mail. Also, the use of computers for voting
opens up many possibilities for election results being
influenced, even if it "only" amounts to getting early
results and using that information to choose which
voters in which precincts should be called and
encouraged to vote.
Written ballots will at first be confusing to fill out.
For example, some voters will try to indicate that a particular
candidate is acceptable and all other candidates are
unacceptable — even though such a vote simply means
that the "unacceptable" choices are tied for second choice.
If ballots are poorly designed, such as asking the voter to enter
numbers that indicate their preference levels,
voters will be even more confused (such as thinking
that entering an especially large number will
weaken disliked candidates).
See the sample ballot near the beginning of this page for
a paper-based design that minimizes confusion.
Q: Some European countries use "proportional representation." Isn't that a better
method of voting?
A: No. In the first place, proportional representation only works in countries
that have a Prime Minister (who is elected by a Parliament)
and does not work in countries that have a
President (who is directly elected by citizens). And to the
extent that proportional representation does work, it only works for
electing members of a legislature (such as Parliament or Congress)
and cannot be used for single-seat offices such as
President, Governor, Mayor, etc.
representation means that if 23 percent of the voters prefer a "green"
political party, then 23 percent of the politicians in the legislature
are from the "green" political party. This approach matches legislative
bodies to political party preferences, but does not allow popular candidates
outside the political parties to be elected.
As another unfairness,
many forms of proportional representation only allow voters
to vote for political parties. This means voters are not
indicate which candidates within a party the voters prefer.
In these cases the political parties, not the voters,
control the sequence
in which their candidates are assigned to legislative seats.
Some versions of proportional representation do allow voters to vote for
candidates in addition to voting for political parties. However, the ways such
votes are combined to produce winners and losers do not produce fair results.
Sometimes only first choices can be indicated. Where second, third, and further
choices can be indicated, the results are based on instant-runoff voting which,
as already indicated, produces unfair results.
Most importantly, countries that use proportional representation
are just as easily influenced by campaign
contributions as in the United States.
In VoteFair ranking, how are all the votes combined into one overall sequence?
best way to see how the calculations are done is to try it!
Then look at the information on the results page. That information summarizes
how the calculations are done.
VoteFair popularity ranking, which is the foundation of VoteFair ranking,
is also explained in the
Wikipedia article about the
If you need a carefully worded description of
VoteFair ranking for use in an organization's rules, see the
rules for elections, or the
rules for decisions, or other pages within the
section of this website.
Wouldn't it be easier to do the calculations by assigning the number 1 to the first choice, 2 to the second choice, etc. and finding the sequence with the highest sum?
A: That's the approach I tried first, but it doesn't produce fair results.
I later learned that this approach was suggested many years ago and
is widely known to produce unfair results in many cases.
One unfairness of this approach is that minor preference differences
among the less popular
choices have an influence on the outcome among the more popular choices.
Another unfairness is that there are ways for one voter to have more
influence than another voter. Also, this approach allows a group of voters
to increase their influence by strategically choosing which candidate they
rank as highest.
Q: Does VoteFair ranking work for situations besides electing candidates?
VoteFair ranking also works for ranking anything of interest.
This means, for example, it can be used to rank budget priorities,
rank the popularity of design choices (such as logos), and
determine the popularity of names being considered for an organization.
The one restriction is that VoteFair ranking
should be done in a special way if any of the options is a "do
nothing" option. In this case, you should first use
VoteFair ranking to determine the most
popular option, and then you can use either normal
voting or VoteFair ranking to choose between
the most popular option and the "do nothing" option.
(When there are only two options, normal voting and
VoteFair ranking produce the same results.)
Send feedback to Richard Fobes at
or use the Testimonials page
© Copyright 2004 through 2011, Richard Fobes at VoteFair.org
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