Ranked Choice Voting Online software
I've been working with Fair Vote IL lately, which is working to advocate for Ranked Choice Voting in Illinois. For now we're looking toward the Presidential Primaries but the long-term goal is to use RCV for all elections. If you're not familiar with Ranked Choice Voting, the Australien Government has an excellent explainer:
Or if that's too flippant for you, CGP Gray has a nice animated explainer:
(A lot of voting systems go by multiple different names, just to make life interesting.)
As part of that, I've been reviewing online RCV tools that we could use for demonstrations and user education. Rather than keep my research private I figured I'd share it with the world in proper activist fashion.
This is by no means an exhaustive search. It's just the ones I found without too much difficulty and had a few random online friends help test.
It is possible to run an RCV-esque poll via Google Forms with a few spreadsheet formulas thrown in. This tutorial does a pretty good job of stepping through how to set it up.
It's not complicated, but has a number of drawbacks:
- You cannot randomize ballot order
- Unless you have a very small number of items the form gets rather unweidly quickly, especially on a phone
- The calculation process is a bit manual. It's not entirely so but it's "edit the spreadsheet and put in this formula, which you have to tweak a bit".
It will work, but I feel there are better options.
OpaVote appears to be a commercial company with a freemium model. Unlike the other options here they offer multiple voting styles, including RCV, Single-Vote, Multi-select (basically RCV for multiple seats at once), and a few others. Their setup is fairly slick and works reasonably well on phones, using drag-and-drop. The visualization for RCV is also quite good.
Their main limitation is that they require email addresses for voters, so that they can limit the voting pool to known individuals. In practice, that's probably a good thing for most real use cases, since you want to have a controlled electorate for most use cases. (Think voting for members of a board of directors, or a standards body, or similar use cases. I've used RCV in all of those and it works very well.)
Unfortunately, for the specific use case that we have a Fair Vote that's not ideal, as for simple demonstration purposes that adds an extra step we probably don't want. That takes it out of the running for us, but it is a good option to consider for your own uses.
Ranked Choice Vote Calculator
The Ranked Choice Vote Calculator seems setup exactly for our use case. It's a demo-targeted RCV system, and while you can sign up to manage votes it allows anyone people to vote (if they have the right URL). Its vote calculator is not as fancy looking at OpaVote's but it is effective and shows a reasonable level of detail. It's also phone-usable and randomizes ballot order, and supports multi-position elections, tome boxing, and a few other nice features.
The app itself is available on GitHub, although the author has neglected to put an explicit license on it so it's technically not legal to download. (The law is stupid, and a lot of developers don't realize this.)
On the downside:
- The voting widget on the phone is a bit finnicky. Several users reported that the "don't vote for this person at all" button only sometimes worked, and on some phones it keeps triggering their keyboard for the optional "name" field. Everyone managed to vote, it was just a little fussy.
- The detailed results view isn't available on the phone. The link for it simply doesn't show up. I am confused by this.
Still, if your goal is demonstration, rather than a real election, this is a simple and effective option.
That fanciness is also its downside. It breaks most browser conventions (open in new tab, etc.), which is never a good sign. It also has this utterly bizarre issue where the app itself has a fixed height, so if you have more than 3-4 items the results page requires vertical scrolling within an iframe, essentially. That... makes no sense to me at all.
The results page also doesn't show as much information as RCVC or OpaVote; it has a really slick "step through" that shifts a graphic as you advance through each round, but it doesn't show the actual vote totals for each step so you have to take it a little on faith. It probably scales better than RCVC to a high number of voters, but the alignment issues are a problem.
On the plus side, my testers reported that on a phone its voting widget was easier to use than RCVC's.
None of these options is perfect, but for just showing off how RCV works and allowing people to experiment with it I would recommend the Ranked Choice Voting Calculator. It offers the most detail and the lowest barrier to entry for casual demonstration use. For real election use, I would give OpaVote a closer look and try out their features in more detail.
Do you know of other such RCV tools to help make the case for adopting Ranked Choice Voting nation-wide? Let me know in the comments.