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IndyMatters: Andrew Yang on how ranked-choice voting could benefit Nevada

Joey Lovato
Joey Lovato
Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Election 2022Elections
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Nevada voters may soon have a chance to overhaul the state’s election system through a ballot initiative filed last year that would adopt open primaries and ranked-choice voting.

The proposed “Final-Five Voting” concept (backed by an out-of-state nonprofit called the Institute for Political Innovation) may have no bigger cheerleader than Andrew Yang, a businessman and former 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful with a fervent online following.

Backers of the initiative in Nevada say it would help depolarize the political environment and break reliance on the two-party system, as ranked-choice voting enables voters to rank their preferred candidates instead of just voting for their top selection and open primaries allow voters of any political party to participate in primary elections. 

Although Yang, and his recently founded “Forward Party,” are not sponsors of the initiative, the former presidential candidate said its goals align closely with his belief about the need to break away from the two-party paradigm. Yang said he is planning a Nevada trip soon that will help promote the initiative and pledged that his group would put forward money, resources and volunteers to get the measure on the 2022 ballot.

“If you look around, you see that we're in a time of institutional displacement, failure, replacement, and that should be true of our political parties too,” Yang said. “It's just, they're hanging on. They're saying, ‘No, no, no, don't consign us to obsolescence. We're gonna just stay here, even as things aren't working.’”

Yang, who also ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City in 2020, sat down with The Nevada Independent last month to talk about ranked-choice voting, open primaries and the Forward Party’s role in Nevada. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to more on the IndyMatters podcast.

You announced the creation of the Forward Party back in October. Can you explain the Forward Party's goal and how it's different from a typical third party?

While I was writing my book Forward, I came to the tough realization that our two-party system is ruining us. It's going to bring us to civil war, strife, widespread political violence.

So when you dig a little deeper, you realize that the two-party system is completely made up. It's a fabrication. It's the worst design failure in the history of the world. 

It turns out there's nothing in the Constitution about any political party, and I'll talk about a friend, Jonathan Haidt, who is very smart. He said, “The worst number of political parties you can have is one. The second worst is two.”

So the question is, how do you get it to be more than two? And the answer lies in the hands of Nevadans over this next number of weeks and months. 

You have to shift away from the closed party primary system and have something like an open, nonpartisan primary supplemented or complemented with, let's say, an instant run-off or ranked-choice voting system. And that would lead us to better incentives for our existing representatives and, over time, to a more vibrant, genuinely representative and democratic, lowercase D system, where you would have more than two parties.

So I came to all of these realizations and said, okay, let's get a move on because it turns out that things are getting worse, not better. Polarization is getting worse, not better. And so I started the Forward Party to help transition us to a nonpartisan more multi-polar, multi-party system. 

The Forward Party is a PAC. Do you have plans to register it as a political party? Why do you think it will be successful where so many other third-party options have failed?

We are indeed a political action committee because the FEC [Federal Election Commission] won't certify you as a political party until you have multiple state chapters, a convention (which we might have in Vegas by the way) and supporting different candidates.

So we'll satisfy those requirements and be certified as a political party sometime over the next number of months. In the meantime, we are a PAC and the reason this is so imperative, and I believe we'll be successful, is that more and more Americans are waking up to the fact that the duopoly is broken.

I just saw some numbers from Nevada that people who aren't Democrats and/or a Republican are going up in number. And people who are traditional partisans are going down. That's particularly pronounced among young people. I saw a recent poll that said 70 percent of young people don't like either party.

Sixty-two percent of Americans want to move on from the duopoly. Forty-four to 50 percent of Americans identify themselves as independents. 

So if you look around, you see that we're in a time of institutional displacement, failure, replacement, and that should be true of our political parties too. It's just they're hanging on. They're saying, "No, no, no, don't consign us to obsolescence. We're gonna just stay here even as things aren't working.”

So we're going to succeed where others have failed because it's well past time. It's years and years overdue. 

You have been an outspoken proponent of ranked-choice voting and open primaries. It’s one of the main issues the Forward Party is focusing on. What makes them superior to our current election system?

A lot of people in Nevada don't pay that much attention to politics in their particular district. And a lot of the reason for that is if they did begin to care, they’d find they don't have a meaningful choice anyway.

As one example, 83 percent of congressional districts are safe seats in either very blue or very red [districts]. So if you were to show up and say, “Hey, I want to participate. I want to make a difference.”

It's already done. It's already spoken for. The fix is in. And so a lot of people sense that that's true and that change is going to be hard to come by. And so we just move on with our lives and hope for the best. 

Now, a nonpartisan open primary would completely shake that up where you can vote for someone of any party. It's not just these party insiders who say, “Hey, guess what? These are the choices."

Instead, you'd have real choices. New parties would have a chance to compete. If you liked someone, you could vote for them, and no one would be able to tell you you're just going to waste your vote … and no one can try and beat you over the head or bully you about your vote. So it would be a dramatic improvement over our current process, where most Nevadans realized [they] don't have a meaningful choice most of the time, which is one reason why you're so disgusted by politics.

What is the Forward Party’s relationship to the group that put forward ranked-choice voting and open primaries? Are you big fans of it?

We are huge supporters of that ballot initiative and the people behind it. And we want to help … I'll be in Nevada at some point before the ballot initiative. A lot of Forward Party volunteers will be there [too]. 

It’s tough to get a question on the ballot in Nevada. What kind of resources are you and the Forward Party putting towards this ballot initiative?

I'm sure we'll be doing everything under the sun. We'll spend money and resources and time … If the goal is to get the signatures initially, that's something that you need volunteers for. You can pay people for it, but I think people understand that it's better if it's just volunteers going out and getting it done.

And then after it's actually on the ballot, there'll be money to be spent promoting it, saying, “Hey, don't let the Democrats or Republicans try to confuse you. We'll give you better options, real choices.”

And there may be some advertising or other campaigns that might be helpful. 

Nevada lawmakers passed a law that would change Nevada from a caucus state to a primary state. The law would also move Nevada up in order of states during the election. Do you think Nevada would be a good choice for the first state in the nation for an election, ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire?

I’ve got a lot of friends in Iowa. I will say that Nevada makes a lot of sense as the first caucus state because it's more representative of the country at large. I think there is something powerful about having a caucus initially or having at least a caucus somewhere in the mix.

If you're trying to get people's preferences, I'm not sure it's necessary that you retain the caucus specifically. I think something like ranked-choice voting captures people's preferences and makes it less daunting because a lot of people find caucusing daunting. 

Are you planning on endorsing any candidates that are in Nevada?

We're going to be supportive of people that like this ballot initiative for sure … so candidates who embrace this platform would be likely to get endorsed by us.

So no one in particular at the moment?

I don't have any insight to share right now. We have great volunteers in Nevada, and some of them have candidates that they're excited about. But it'd be premature for us to talk about candidates right now. 

Have you considered running for any offices as a Forward Party candidate, or have you considered putting up someone else as a candidate?

Our country is on the edge of spiraling into political violence, civil war 2.0. I want to do everything I can to try to keep us from heading over that cliff. Whatever that means, in 2022 or 2024, I'm going to do it. I will say that right now my focus is on 2022 and helping other candidates.

I will share that I'm not someone who has some burning desire to be in a particular office. So if it'll be helpful, I'll do it, and if it's not going to be helpful, I'll be helping someone else. 

Has the COVID pandemic changed your thinking about any of the issues you ran on in 2020?

The biggest change since my campaign has been the real-life rollout and implementation of cash relief in the last number of months for tens of millions of Americans. The enhanced child tax credit lifted 3.8 million kids out of poverty and should be continuing in perpetuity, according to 442 economists.

You remember hearing about Andrew Yang and universal basic income, and you were like, “Oh, That's interesting. It'll never happen. It's too good to be true,” then fast forward a couple of years, you're like, “Oh wait, it did happen,” or some version of it.

It just shows that it can be done. We do have the resources. People will solve their own problems with that money better than, frankly, a government program that pretends to solve the problem.

So the promise of universal basic income is clear to more and more Americans. When I was running for president, the approval rating nationally of universal basic income was something like 28 percent. A lot of people were like, “That's too good to be true.” Now, the last poll I saw was something like 56 percent.

[Editor’s note: A 2020 Pew Research Center survey found that 54 percent of American adults would oppose the federal government providing a guaranteed income of $1,000 per month to all adult citizens, whether or not they work. About 45 percent supported the proposal.]

So a lot of what I ran on has come to pass in ways good and bad. The bad is that companies have said that they're investing more in automation.

Do you expect President Biden to run again in 2024? If implemented, would an open primary for a presidential race benefit a party with multiple candidates or an incumbent?

I think that you're going to see a competitive primary on the Democratic side, more so than on the Republican side. I don't think Joe is running again, which means it's going to be relatively open.

On the Republican side, I believe Trump is going to steamroll the field. So that's going to be less competitive. The Democratic race is going to be competitive because there's no clear front-runner. I think you're going to see some new candidates emerge that weren't in the field in 2020. 

In an ideal world, we'd have nonpartisan open primaries in the presidential [race] too, which is not what's being considered in Nevada on this ballot initiative.

One of the most interesting things I discovered running for president is that it turns out the presidential race is the biggest opening in the system where it's easier for an independent candidate to run nationally. [Better than] on a local level. Because on a local level, there's not much local press now, not much oxygen, and no one's really paying attention.

Whereas in the presidential [election], if someone had the resources to make their case nationwide, they actually can do it. So I do think there's going to be a third-party candidate who runs as an independent or a libertarian or some other party that's going to have an impact on the race for sure. 

If Biden doesn’t run in 2024 and Trump does steamroll the Republican side of the field, do you think Vice President Kamala Harris could run and get the Democratic nomination? Would she have a chance of winning against Trump?

Kamala will certainly be one of the main contenders for the Democratic nomination. The last numbers I saw showed that she polled 5 points worse than Joe against a Republican opponent. So I don't think she's going to clear the field. I think she'll be one of a number of contenders.

You put out a Twitter poll about where to hold the Forward Party Convention, and Las Vegas was on that poll. Is Vegas in the running for the Forward Party Convention?

Vegas is one of the front-runners for the Forward Party convention —one of many reasons why I'm excited about Nevada in the days to come.

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