Comparing Rank Choice Voting (RCV), First Past the Post (FPTP), and Approval Voting: Degrees of Freedom in Voting Systems

A pirate skeleton head wielding the sword named Rank Choice Voting to fight for the freedoms of the people.


In the realm of democracy, it is crucial that every citizen has a voting system that truly reflects their preferences and values. That’s where Rank Choice Voting (RCV) comes into play. RCV offers a fresh approach that empowers voters with greater freedom, making it essential to understand how it compares to other voting systems and why it provides a superior choice for a dynamic democracy.

Degrees of Freedom

To evaluate the quality of different voting systems, we can examine the degrees of freedom they offer to voters. Degrees of freedom refer to the ability of voters to express themselves in various ways, particularly in terms of preferences or approval.

Current System Limitations

Our current voting system, known as First Past the Post Voting (FPTP), has severe limitations when it comes to the degree of freedom it gives. FPTP restricts voters to selecting a single favorite candidate, limiting their expression of nuanced preference and not considering possible approval of other candidates at all.

FPTP grants only one degree of freedom, the ability to choose your favorite. Which means this system can be considered an extremity of preferential voting systems which limits your vote to only your most extreme preference.

FPTP always gives only one degree of freedom in all scenarios, of all voting systems it is considered the least comprehensive.

Introducing Approval Voting

Another voting system, called Approval Voting, focuses on approval and provides degrees of freedom in expressing acceptance. However, it completely lacks the ability to convey nuanced preference.

As an approval system, it grants one degree of freedom per candidate.

The Flexibility of Rank Choice Voting

In contrast, Rank Choice Voting (RCV) expands upon the existing degrees of freedom in both of these voting systems.

With RCV, voters can express their approval and acceptability indirectly through rankings.

Let’s consider an example with three candidates: A, B, and C. By ranking all three in RCV, you indicate your implicit approval for all three candidates.

Alternatively, if you rank only your favorite as number one and leave the rest blank, you indicate your approval solely for your favorite candidate. Same as FPTP.

RCV not only allows for degrees of freedom in terms of approval but also provides the freedom to express nuanced preferences.

With RCV, voters can rank candidates in order of preference, enabling them to convey their relative preference and favorability among the candidates. Each ranking represents a degree of preferential freedom, allowing voters to express their nuanced opinions.

Comparing Degrees of Freedom

When comparing the degrees of freedom offered by RCV, FPTP, and Approval Voting, it becomes evident that RCV provides greater flexibility and expression of voter preferences.

While FPTP only allows for the expression of a single favorite candidate, RCV expands upon this by incorporating both approval and preferential degrees of freedom.

Similarly, Approval Voting primarily focuses on approval without accounting for nuanced preference.

For a three candidate ballot, assuming you behave honestly, the FPTP allows you to express only one aspect of how you feel about all candidates. Approval allows you to approve all three, granting three ways. And RCV provides six ways to express what you think about the candidates.

The degree to which your freedom is limited by the FPTP system increases with the number of candidates, this is why Democratic countries should not use the FPTP system. It inherently limits the choices and freedom of the voters in most scenarios.

By embracing RCV, voters gain the power to express themselves more comprehensively and shape the political discourse towards a system that is more representative and responsive to their needs.


Rank Choice Voting stands out as a voting system that not only encompasses and expands upon existing systems like FPTP and Approval Voting but also offers greater freedom of expression and choice. By providing degrees of freedom in terms of approval and nuanced preference, RCV empowers voters and paves the way for a more dynamic and inclusive democracy.

Stay tuned for our next two posts in the RCV series, as we make a comprehensive argument for RCV against the current systems.

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