On Saturday, Andrew Yang took the stage at FreedomFest, held at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, to announce his new political party: the Forward Party. FreedomFest is an event dominated by libertarian and right-wing ideologues. As a former presidential and mayoral candidate who ran as Democrat before breaking up with the party, Yang’s inclusion as a speaker raised some eyebrows among attendees. But, on the convention’s final day, Yang was excitedly received by the audience, as Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” played.
One of the main objectives of Yang’s new Forward Party is to promote ranked choice voting with open primaries. Yang calls his proposed system “Final 5 voting,” and it appears to be more than a coincidence that this issue will be on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment in Nevada, the state Yang announced from.
Move Nevada Forward was part of the nonprofit coalition responsible for balloting the amendment. Aside from the obvious naming similarities, a quick scroll of their website shows photos of the “Yang Gang” supporting his 2020 presidential bid. Cesar Marquez is both a director for the ballot initiative and the State Lead for Forward Nevada, while he admits they are still in the process of becoming formally recognized as a party by the NV Secretary of State. Marquez tells RedState,
“This system will allow any party to have a chance similar to European countries with multiparty systems.”
But, not everyone agrees. It is anticipated that Nevada Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian parties will all formally oppose, with dissent from party leadership already swirling. As Yang asked the audience if they were members of each respective party, laughter was the only response heard when he asked if any Democrats were in attendance. Yang went on to criticize Nevada Democrat leaders–saying they suggested ranked choice voting was “too confusing for voters of color”–as the audience jeered.
Clark County Republican Party Chairman Jesse Law predicts local Republicans will reject the ballot question, telling RedState,
“I don’t think Nevada Republicans will vote for it because they want to put their best candidates forward to the general.”
Voters will be asked to decide on opening the primary and ranked choice voting together, thus creating Yang’s top five system, but many find an open primary to be undesirable. Angela McArdle, Chair of the Libertarian National Committee, says she is not opposed to ranked choice voting, but has seen the effects of open primaries in California, where she lives. McArdle tells RedState,
“Ranked choice voting is a better system than what we have now, but I have yet to see it move the needle in the direction of individual liberty. It’s not in my top five concerns. The California ‘jungle’ primary makes it very difficult to get anyone on the ballot that isn’t a Democrat.”
Marquez also shares criticism for Californa’s election system telling RedState,
“We don’t like what California is doing, which is why we have top five, instead of top two.”
Nevada currently has closed primaries, allowing major party voters to select candidates from their own party to run in the general election and permitting minor parties like the Libertarian Party to skip the primary, selecting their candidates at convention for the general election. Nevada Libertarian Party Chairman, Charles Melchin tells RedState he is concerned about the future of third party ballot access for presidential candidates under the proposed system, saying,
“Nobody has answered that question. I don’t want to see a Libertarian presidential candidate on the ballot in 49 states, but not on the ballot in Nevada.”
Indeed, there are many unanswered questions regarding what the constitutional amendment would do in practice, or what language the Democrat-controlled legislature will pass if the amendment comes to fruition. There aren’t clear answers on the need for or roles of parties under this proposal, nor why Yang ironically launched a new party that attempts to minimize… parties. There is little uniformity of thought on the issue, as Libertarian candidate for Nevada Governor, Brandon Davis supports the reform. His wife Rebecca Davis shares this position, telling RedState,
“I can’t tell you how many times over the last few years I’ve heard individuals say they feel politically homeless. Ranked choice voting and open primaries give more choice to the people, more power in the hands of the individual to vote for a person over a party.”
Davis and Yang seem to be aiming to appeal to the same demographics, with Davis capitalizing on disenfranchised voters of a recent GOP grassroots populist movement in the Governor’s race by providing a “third option.” Marquez describes the Forward Party’s appeal to RedState as being geared toward,
“[m]oderate Republicans, disenfranchised Libertarians, nonpartisans, disenfranchised Democrats, younger and more diverse voters.”
McArdle tells RedState she believes the Forward Party aims to appeal to,
“[c]entrists, moderates and Libertarians who have progressive tendencies who feel that economic freedom is not a priority.”
Though Yang told the liberty-loving audience that final five voting is a “win for Libertarians and Independents,” that message didn’t resonate with party members who feared what they could lose.
Nevada Libertarian Executive Committee Member Adam Haman tells RedState,
“I wish the ballot proposal could be split in half, while ranked choice voting more accuratley expreses the will of the electorate, the open primary system will have the effect of destroying third parties in Nevada.
He concludes: “I don’t want the Libertarian Party to disappear.”