Yang Gang Joins Fight for Ranked Choice Voting

Created: 14 October, 2020
Updated: 14 August, 2022
4 min read

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has added his voice behind the growing movement for systemic political and electoral reform in the US. Yang joined FairVote Senior Fellow and author David Daley for a webinar to discuss his support for ranked choice voting and why he believes it will lead to greater competition, fairness, and policy diversity in elections.

Andrew Yang’s bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination was considered a long-shot from the start. However, he garnered an enthusiastic support base that gravitated around his call for pragmatic solutions and ideas outside the party’s platform.

Central to Yang’s campaign was the idea that the way Washington conducted business wasn’t working for the American people, and we needed leaders who would stand up for real change. Now, Yang is applying the same vigor and passion he showed on the campaign trail to reforming the US political system. 

“If you are an individual homemaker or mechanic or retail clerk and you look up and say, ‘Oh, I would like to do something about my member of Congress or what’s going on in DC,’ you feel like there is nothing you can do about it.”

“There is an instinct that unless you are a billionaire who can lob hundreds of thousands of dollars into the system, no one is going to listen to you or care about you, and unfortunately there is a significant amount of truth to that feeling.”

He added that we are at a point where money speaks louder than people, and at the heart of the issue is an incentive problem.

Congress hovers at an approval rating of 21%, yet the incumbent reelection rate is 94% for individual members. Yang said we can look at issues like partisan gerrymandering and a partisan primary system as the root causes. 

Over 80% of congressional seats are considered safe for one party or the other, which means the incentive for policymakers is not to push for solutions that benefit the broader electorate, but placate a small base of supporters in partisan primaries.

“Ranked choice voting goes a very long way to adjusting the incentives of legislators so that they are lined up more with delivering for the broader population, and it also reduces the ability to just demonize and vilify the other side and say it is all their fault,” Yang said. 

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He explained that ranked choice voting in concert with open primaries would give voters a range of choices, thus candidates can’t afford to appeal to ideological extremes and are less likely to attack each other when they need to campaign to be ranked by their opponents’ voters.

That is not the only way the incentive structure changes, though. There is an important conversation about how nonpartisan reforms like ranked choice voting can change the incentive to bring new policy ideas to the table.

“We’re at a point where we need new ideas and new voices and new approaches to policy and solutions,” Yang said, “and our political machinery is not very well designed to provide them.”

“If you had ranked choice voting in more contests then you’d simply have a more dynamic system, and there would be more people proposing ideas and solutions that have enough people excited to get behind them.”

Yang stood out in the Democratic field for advocating for Universal Basic Income, a proposal that would likely have never entered the mainstream political conversation without his candidacy. The argument is that with ranked choice voting, more candidates with new and innovative proposals will join the race because they’ll have a stronger voice in the process.

Ranked choice voting, though, is not the only reform on Yang’s mind. He said we need a broad systemic approach. 

Yang, for instance, also supports open primaries. During the webinar he quoted Boss Tweed who once said, “I don't care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating,” which he believes is how many Americans feel about their experience with US elections, and is exactly how parties prefer it.

He also supports term limits, campaign finance reform, “democracy dollars” to enhance voter participation in the process, overturning Citizens United, and anti-gerrymandering initiatives. He said he wants to see all of these reform issues addressed and resolved to improve elections and bring Washington up to speed on the needs of the American people.

Check out the full interview with Andrew Yang above, which is part of FairVote's ongoing webinar series, "The Future of American Elections."

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