Voting by choice — currently used in more than 50 cities in the U.S. and in the states of Maine and Alaska — is an electoral reform that lets people rank different choices in the order they prefer them, with the goal of finding the options that most tasty for everyone. The idea is to provide an alternative to the choice of the largest faction. Ranked electoral ballot appeared on the ballot in ten jurisdictions in 2022 and won in eight, including Nevada.
One factor that has prevented this method from being used more widely is technology. Voting booths were not set up for it.
Now, a fledgling startup called RankedVote offers software-as-a-service technology to simplify the decision-making process with online ranked voting. The program was used by New York City when the borough first used ranked-choice voting after an official discovered the company’s website, and has been used by the Alaska Division of Elections to educate its voters.
Founder Tad Milbourn, based in Middleton, WI, compares the software to Survey Monkey if only it were ranked choice voting. He founded the startup as a side job while working at Intuit. During the pandemic lockdowns, he trained himself to code and created the software. Founded in 2020, the sole proprietorship currently brings in about $28,000 a year. It has served 22,906 users and 424,189 voters.
Millbourn believes the revenue count could go much higher if choice voting catches on. “To use it in the mainstream, it has to be used in everyday contexts,” he explains.
He keeps an eye on what happens now that the elections have taken place in November. “It will be interesting to see how much this business relates to interest in elections in general,” he says.
It’s not just elections where choice voting can be used, he adds. It is used by companies trying to gauge the pulse of employees, and for use in selecting the non-profit organizations that a company’s charitable arm supports. A video game studio, Studio Wildcard, used it to reach out to its community to decide which character would be included in a future version of the game, he says.
“It has very broad applicability,” he says. “Anytime you have a group where everyone’s vote is more or less equal, that’s a great place to use ranked voting as a decision making tool.”
Milbourn previously co-founded Payable, a venture-backed start-up that offered a mass payment platform, and served as CEO for four years before it was acquired by payment processor Stripe. He is also a veteran of Intuit, where he led innovation teams tasked with revamping the culture.
“I had a front row seat to entrepreneurship in the US through Intuit,” he says. “I have always been intrigued by entrepreneurship as a means of self-expression. After my startup was taken over, I asked myself, ‘Can I have my cake and eat it too? Can I design a setup where my work is fulfilling, learning new things, and having the kind of lifestyle I want with my wife and family? Can it also promote and promote the causes I care about?’ I’m not there yet, but I’d say the initial results are super encouraging.”