By Joe Oddo
Andrew Yang is a busy promoter these days. His book “Forward” will likely climb the
bestseller charts as a result of his popularity growth during the last few election cycles.
Listen to the mainstream media and they describe him as a “failed candidate”. This is
standard operating procedure for any political actor that does not fit their tightly scripted two-party narrative. Without
deviating from the script, they perpetuate this inaccurate characterization and spread it all through their Big Media tentacles.
Whether you are a fan of Andrew Yang or not, the fact that
he is out there challenging the status quo is an important step that our nation needs right now. His message resonates with
us who are discontented with third party spoilers. The “us” is a loose collection of activists and agitators who
drum up just enough swing votes to terrify the big corporate parties. They blame losses on “spoilers,” then enact
legislation to make it even harder for independent and smaller parties to get on the ballot and compete. Unless we successfully
reform election procedures to allow more participation, the ugly reality of the political duopoly will self-perpetuate. A
perfect example is the failure of the partisan stacked redistricting commission in Virginia to redraw lines within the time
constraints assigned to it.
Despite how hard it is to make these kinds
of gains, we must keep the pressure on addressing our broken electoral systems. Egged on by hyper partisan media coverage,
political fissures have crept beyond electoral politics and into our daily lives with heated rhetoric and unusual shows of
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We should be weary of the talking heads in the media by now. We should be better at tuning out,
realizing that they simply refuse to call out the real struggle. Rather, they play to the core extremists that remain in each
of the big two political parties. This is done while standing in the shadow of mountains of donors, lobbyists, and legislation-influencing
cash. They pretend there are hard differences between the two big parties and as a result they report on political actors
arguing about strictly ideological disagreements. The reality is that whoever pays the most has the loudest voice. Hence,
the favorable votes are those that Big Pharma, Big Oil, and their Big Affiliates can buy in both federal and state legislatures.
Yang recently had Nick Troiano, Executive Director of Unite
America, on his podcast to highlight the electoral reform measures that are picking up rapid support around the country. Namely
this includes the reform of the primary system that, Yang claims, favors extreme candidates and those that are most divisive.
The idea is that the top five are chosen in an open primary
process – regardless of party. Then those five appear on the November General Election ballot with the voter given the
chance to rank and select their favorites in order of 1 to 5. This voting process called Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is being
used in several large elections. It was most recently used in the New York mayoral race and the Republican Governor nomination
It is also called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). This is because
if the first round of counting does not yield a majority on the first round, the number five vote-getter is dropped and those
selected second are added to the first-round votes and so on, until a majority of 50% plus one is achieved.
RCV/IRV is such a logical solution because it provides a much more accurate and
representative outcome than an expensive, low-turnout runoff. Most recently in Texas, a two-round runoff could have been avoided.
Already a low turnout of 78,374 - less than a third of voters - decided who advanced to the runoff, among a crowd of 23 choices.
Susan Wright led that first primary on May 1 with 15,052 votes, or 19.2 percent, while Jake Ellzey finished second with 10,851
votes, or 13.8 percent.
“Nearly three months later, fewer
than 39,000 voters took part in the runoff, a decline of more than 50 percent. That means an even tinier and less representative
pool of voters made the final decision. This precipitous plummet is predictable.
Instead of expecting voters to return to the polls a second time, everyone could have cast their ballot
at once, with RCV working as an "instant runoff” with more voters to having a say in the outcome
Voter turnout in the decisive vote would have increased, and the 6th congressional
district would have had a representative far faster. Plus, as Rob Ritchie of FairVote declares, “everyone who came out
to vote the first time would have had the same opportunity to vote in the runoff. That's a better and more efficient election—and
exactly the kind of nonpartisan election reform all voters, and all legislators, ought to get behind.”
“Runoff elections are almost always low-turnout races, even though taxpayers
spend tens of millions to administer them.” Ritchie continues, “The political science on this is clear. FairVote
studied every primary runoff for Congress between 1994 and 2020, and found that turnout fell in 97 percent of them. That's
240 of 248 elections over 26 years, fewer voters cast ballots in the decisive runoff.
“States and localities nationwide have adopted ranked choice voting because it's such a useful
tool in getting more voters to participate and to determine the winner who best combines wide and deep support. In Utah, 23
cities chose to use RCV this November for their elections. Citizens in Maine and Alaska brought RCV to statewide races via
the ballot initiative, with the Maine legislature adding presidential elections.
“It's not because it makes elections perfect. It simply makes them better. In New York's mayoral
race, RCV came in for criticism because some 15 percent of voters did not back either of the final two choices among their
top five rankings. Nitpickers called that an ‘exhausted ballot.’ But what's better, having five choices or merely
one? Under the old system, any ballot not cast for the winner would have been ‘exhausted’ right away.”
A new analysis of ranked choice voting (RCV) in Maine by the R Street Institute
provides critical insights into implementing these and similar reforms across the country. In particular, the study dispels
myths that RCV is too complicated for voters and that confusion prevents voters from accurately expressing their preferences
on the ballot.
The key findings show that voters seized the opportunity to
rank candidates. In the 2018 Democratic primary race for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, nearly 65 percent of voters
ranked at least two candidates, while nearly half ranked at least three candidates and more than a quarter ranked all four
candidates. In the 2020 Republican primary election for the same seat, more than half of all voters ranked at least two candidates
and just under half ranked all three.
Voters were not confused by RCV. Rather,
the number of blank ballots matched the totals seen in elections before RCV, and less than 1 percent of ballots were set aside
due to confusion. Even in the highly competitive 2018 general election, the number of confused ballots only totaled 0.21 percent,
nowhere near enough to change the outcome of the election.
“And as we see in Texas, the problem is not exhausted ballots but exhausted voters. Over half of those who took part
in the first round didn't bother coming back for the second. Why not make it easier and conduct both rounds at once?”
After three years of implementation and multiple elections,
the data in Maine demonstrates that voters understand how to use the power of RCV to express their preferences in elections,
and that the overwhelming majority of ballots cast in an RCV election accurately reflect those preferences.
This method of voting has already proven to tone down the harsh criticism and
negative campaigning that the traditional method perpetuates. Candidates look to form alliances instead of enemies.
Voters used RCV to cross party lines. Data from the 2018 general election race
shows that a strong majority of Democratic and third-party voters and nearly a third of Republican voters ranked more than
one candidate, often across party lines.
The challenge is
that to enact this type of voting will require action by the very representatives of the existing system whose power will
be weakened. And as Frederick Douglas insinuated, power never concedes power voluntarily.
However, if you listen carefully to Yang, Troiano, Ritchie and others you’ll hear the optimism.
We were able to get women the right to vote. Having voting rights made into law proves that with persistence we can improve
our electoral systems as well.
Which leaves this last critique of Yang’s
book from Ballot Access News author Richard Winger, “It doesn’t mention ballot access problems, nor problems for
minor parties being excluded in candidate debates. Yang doesn’t explain why he doesn’t support other election
reforms”, referring to proportional representation or the National Popular Vote Plan.
Winger, the nation’s premier ballot access expert, declares that the top five plan would create
a monopoly for the big, large candidates, essentially blocking any minor parties from being on the General Election ballot
especially in US Senate and gubernatorial elections. He relayed news, “that a group of very wealthy individuals are
banding together to raise $100 million to promote state initiatives to implement top-five primaries and ranked choice voting.
“Probably Yang’s real purpose in writing this book is to help that
Joseph Oddo is the Managing Director of
the SC / GA division of Neumann Associates Mergers & Acquisition Advisors, and a professional non-fiction, freelance writer.
Correspond via the web: josephoddo.com.