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Final Five

Final Five Voting, Explained

2 min read
Final Five Politics Team · May 17, 2024

Final Five Voting is an alternative voting system which combines two electoral reforms: a single, open primary and instant run-off voting. It involves two separate elections, a primary and a general election.

The first election narrows down the list of candidates to five. During the second election, constituents rank all five of those top candidates. For this reason, Final Five Voting is also known as a form of ranked choice voting

How Final Five Voting Works

This type of electoral system involves two separate votes. The first election, an open primary, is open to anyone who qualifies to run for the elected office. It doesn't matter whether there are three, five, or even 20 people who'd like to run for a position. It also doesn’t matter what political party the candidates belong to. All candidates compete on the same ballot. As long as they follow the rules regarding getting their names on the ballot, they'll be listed as options for voters. 

People vote for their top candidates during this initial election, and then the top five recipients continue to the next election.

In the second round of voting, which happens on a separate date, voters rank the candidates from one to five in order of preference. 

This type of ranked choice voting results in a majority winner through the following process:

  1. Government officials tally voters’ first-choice candidates.

  2. If one of the five candidates wins a majority of the vote in this first round of vote tallying,  a winner is declared. If not, the candidate who came in last place gets eliminated from the race.

  3. For anyone who ranked that eliminated candidate as their first choice, their selections are then transferred to their second-choice candidates.

  4. Government officials again tally the results, and if a winner is not found, the last-place candidate gets eliminated.

  5. The process continues until there are two candidates remaining.

  6. The majority winner gets to hold the office.

This process is meant to ensure that the winner of the election has the support of the majority of voters. It is also meant to reduce the need for strategic voting, and to reduce voters’ fears of wasting their votes.

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Final Five Voting vs. Other Electoral Systems

To understand the difference between Final Five Voting and other types of electoral systems, it is essential to understand two separate concepts: what makes a single, open preliminary election unique, and the difference between instant run-off voting and other methods of calculating votes.

In many states, only registered Republicans or Democrats are allowed to select the candidates who will represent them in general elections. These states have closed primary elections. Other states have open primaries, which allow more voters to participate but which still require voters to choose whether to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary.

Final Five Voting uses a different system from both of these options. Under a system of Final Five Voting, voters participate in one single, open preliminary election. With this alternative approach to the electoral process, voters can express their support for anyone they wish, regardless of political party. This distinction can help to increase the competitiveness of elections. It can also make it more viable for independent and third-party candidates to run for office.

Final Five Voting’s use of a single, open preliminary election also makes it different from other types of ranked choice voting. Only Final Five Voting combines an open preliminary (which doesn't involve ranked choice voting) along with a ranked-choice general election.

Final Five Voting is similar to ranked choice voting, however, in the general election’s reliance on an absolute majority to declare a winner. In this way, Final Five Voting and the more standard form of ranked choice voting are both different from first-past-the-post voting.

Pros and Cons of Final Five Voting

Final Five Voting may be able to change the landscape of political competition and democracy. It has many benefits, though there are some disadvantages as well.

Pros of Final Five Voting

Here are the main advantages of Final Five Voting:

  •  Encourages bipartisan cooperation

  •  Allows for competitive elections with more than two candidates

  •  Can result in increased civic engagement

  •  Focuses on meeting the needs of average voters instead of extreme ones

This type of electoral reform incentivizes a more generalized view of governance. Instead of focusing on winning party primaries and catering to the most extreme partisan voters, a candidate can focus on developing policies that may have a broader appeal. This can result in more effective governance and a healthier, more stable government structure that doesn't swing drastically from the left to the right every few years.

When an election system focuses primarily on two political parties, it can be difficult for anyone else to get their foot in the door. Electoral reform opens up the possibility that a third-party candidate or an independent candidate can come away with a win.

Importantly, a Final Five system can help regular citizens feel that their votes really count in elections. Since they know that all of their ranked choices matter, they may feel more validated when participating in civic engagement activities. 

Cons of Final Five Voting

Any electoral system is bound to have drawbacks. Here are some common disadvantages that critics have brought up in relation to the Final Five approach to election reform:

  • Expensive to institute political reform

  • Can take longer to determine a winner

  • May go against the idea of "one person, one vote"

  • The initial leader may not win

It's true that electoral reform takes time and resources to implement. However, Final Five Voting  could be a solid alternative to traditional systems. 

The Movement for Electoral Reform

Final Five Voting is one type of alternative electoral system, but it isn’t the only one. Other types of alternative voting systems are also being proposed by reform-minded advocates. These include ranked choice voting, approval voting, STAR voting, and more.

Want to learn more about electoral reform? Explore our full collection of educational resources related to electoral reform here.

You can also join’s growing community of reform-minded Americans who are working to create a democratic system that works for everyone. Find volunteer opportunities and connect with others who are passionate about reforming American elections and democracy.

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Electoral Reform
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By Politics Team
The politics team is focused on transforming the political landscape by promoting transparency, accountability, and positive change. They aim to engage citizens in the political process, encourage informed decision-making, and support candidates who prioritize the common good. Their mission revolves around creating a more fair and just political system, fostering collaboration, and breaking down traditional barriers of partisanship.