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How Final 5 Saves Us: Pudner Makes Case to Skeptic (and Friend!) Joe Thomas on the Air

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

John Pudner returned (virtually) to Charlottesville, VA, where he ran his first political efforts for then General Assembly Member George Allen, organizing a statewide tour prior to him becoming Governor and then US Senator.

Pudner makes the case that both Glenn Youngkin’s win in Virginia and Tim Michels’ loss in Wisconsin make the strong case for Final Five. The party endorsed Youngkin in an instant runoff/ranked choice convention, which is one of the aspects of Final 5, rather than a bitter partisan primary, like what happened in Wisconsin, in which millions of CONSERVATIVE dollars were spent to drive up Michels’ negatives and turn off supporters of his GOP opponent Rebecca Kleefisch (e.g. an outside group showed her with a Chinese Communist flag). This led to damaging of the republican candidate, and some republican voters being less likely to vote in the general election—all while the democratic Governor in Wisconsin was able to focus on the general electorate from the beginning of the race.

Under Final Five, those millions of dollars for negative TV would have been redirected to promote Kleefisch and Michels, and both Republicans would have been on the Final ballot to drive out more and more conservatives to “rank the red” as the Alaska GOP campaigned on, and deliver Wisconsin to Republicans. The conservative independent Joan Beglinger would have likewise been encouraged to bring conservatives to the polls as well, so they could rank Beglinger 1st, then either Michels or Kleefisch 2nd, likely boosting Michels (or possibly Kleefisch) to the Governor’s Mansion, instead of Tony Evers.

Thomas responded that he did not want a system just because it helped Republicans – a good point to which Pudner clarified that the important thing was to give elected officials incentive NOT to trash each other put to encourage more participation from supporters of like-minded candidates. Final Five is not designed or intended to change who gets elected, rather, it is intended to change the incentives to promote accountability for delivering results. Click here for the entire interview or read it below.


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John Pudner and Joe Thomas.

Joe Thomas 00:00

I asked John Pudner to join us. He's a dear friend, been on this show for decades and more now, because I want to blow up everyone who says I only book people I agree with, because I'm skeptical about what John's been working on, and he has been working on ranked choice voting, Steve Newman and I have thrown down on getting rid of the Electoral College as well, John, so you're in good company. And I'm curious, though, about it, because I saw what happened in Alaska, New York, some of those places, but you know, what makes what you're doing in Nevada different? So, how you doing this morning? And there you go, player, It's all laid out for you.

John Pudner 00:39

Oh, doing fantastic. Well, first of all, I don't like all ranked choice voting systems. I think New York's was a disaster last year. I also would point out in Alaska that, you know, Sarah Palin was basically telling people to vote for the Democrat as their second choice, not the other Republicans, so I think the fact that she got blown out had a lot more to do with her than the system. But, the Final Five proposal, I think, is very good. And just to give you, quickly, how it would work, parties still do a firehouse primary or convention, wherever they did to pick their candidates, step one. Step two, you go to an open primary. That's where some conservatives are hung up, but I would argue that's actually very good, because instead of Republicans spending millions of dollars attacking each other, and coming up bloody into the general election, you keep a couple of strong Republicans on the ballot. And then, you go to the general election, the top five in that primary make the general election, you got it down to a manageable number, and then you rank the top five in order. The reason I love that is, I'll give you example, Wisconsin, we just lost a close governor's race. Once again, the Democrats funded a conservative independent, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on her, only targeted conservatives saying vote for another Republican. We fought back and beat them down, so we got her down to 1%, but the enormous effort we put into that, and liberals are just very good at finding the smaller candidates now taking 2, 3, 4% with a Libertarian, Constitution Party candidate, whoever, I think it solves that. And, I'm happy to have two great Republicans turning people out for a general election and then all picking each other as their second choice. I wouldn't have cared if Peter Schneider or someone was still on the ballot last election. You're still getting people out and I think Youngkin would have still won. I think it would have improved his margin. So anyway, I think Final Five, as a system, works, as opposed to what New York did, where you throw 13 candidates on a ballot and have to somehow rank them.

Joe Thomas 02:41

Well, let me ask you this, and I'm going back a few years in New York. I grew up in New York, when parties didn't have candidates, they endorsed candidates. So, you would go into your polling place, and there'd be a bunch of candidates names, and then which parties endorsed them in the ballot. And so, you could say I wanted to vote for Rudolph Giuliani, but I wanted to vote for him in the right for life party because I wanted him to know that that's what I thought was most important, or republican or conservative, you know. And, it was actually interesting for the office holder because they got a better look at where their votes were coming from even if there was a majority at the end of the day of votes for the... "Well, half of my votes came from right to life. I guess I'd better pay attention to this issue", or Green New Deal, or whatever it may be. Why would, under this Final Five proposition, you even need political party primaries at all? Let's just get five people on the ballot, and then maybe the Republican Party endorses this guy, and the Democratic Party endorses this guy, the Libertarian... but it's not up to the party when we want watch Mitch McConnell throw money at people who weren't the Republican nominee, or could have been just because they were friends of his, take money away from places where they could have been useful. So, I'm all for taking the party out of it. Why would we need political party primaries?

John Pudner 04:08

No, you're right, you wouldn't even need the primary. But, I do think it's important for the party brand to let the party endorse the candidate and have that on the ballot, and that could be done at any stage. You could do it before the open primary, you could come back and do it before the general, and as you said, someone could...a pro-life party could endorse - there's a Wisconsin pro-life party called the Solidarity Party. Now, right now, that just kills us because anyone who voted for the Solidarity Party did not vote for Trump in 2020, for example, so those were votes away from him. There was also a Constitution Party candidate in Wisconsin. Guess what? Votes pulled away from Trump. They ended up pulling 50,000 votes away from him in Wisconsin and he loses by 20,000 votes. So, those people were all on the ballot, and my argument is, if instead of that they came through this system, they'd all be on the ballot, but once you get down to the Final Five, they'd all list a second choice, and I don't believe many of either those three are going to pick Joe Biden over Trump as their second choice, or third, or fourth, as long as they pick them ahead. So, it becomes an advantage. The situation we had in Wisconsin, there were some churches who were upset that Tim Michels, the Republican nominee, made exceptions on rape and incest for abortion. They wanted 100%. And so, they were telling their delegations to not vote for him, even though obviously, the differences were extreme. Well, in this system, you'd want a pro-life party turning people out, and listing as their second choice, the candidate who was closer to them than the other one, whichever that closer man is. So, I just think it makes it good to have other conservatives turning people out, getting them to the polls. I had to go meet with the independent in Wisconsin, convince her to endorse, she couldn't get off the ballot, and just say, "You're killing us, you take 4 or 5% from us and the Democrat wins in a landslide." And my point is, if this were the system, I would have been telling her, "Joan, get everyone out you can. I want you to keep running your great campaign...", She was up to 7% in the polls at one point, "...get them all to the polls. We know they like the Republican better than the Democrat. You're gonna help us by a few points as opposed to keeping your people at home."

Joe Thomas 06:21

John Pudner is with Take Back Action. Take Back Action is working on something called the Final Five and it sounds like a process where you get to five candidates and it's ranked-choice voting after that. John, am I oversimplifying it?

John Pudner 06:39

No, what we want to do is incentivize candidates and campaigns to do different things. For example, let's just say instead of a firehouse primary, which would be ranked choice in Virginia to get Youngkin, you'd have traditional all-out nuclear battles between the candidates, and, you know, Kirk Cox, and Pete Schneider, and Amanda Chase had been incentivizes to attack Youngkin on the air. I don't think he wins a general election if that happens. I think you got some aspects of this program in the ranked choice voting firehouse primary. We keep that a little more in house, certainly negative, as opposed to Wisconsin, where we spent millions attacking each other in a primary, Governor goes through unscathed, we go out wounded, you still have a second place candidate, former Lieutenant Governor for Scott Walker, people very upset at ads that were run by outside groups, not by Michels himself with her with a Chinese flag going to China, I think that cost you a few percent. So, I think that could have cost an election here in Wisconsin, whereas in Virginia, I think having some aspects of this system in place helped Youngkin. I think he could have lost that in a traditional kind of setup.

Joe Thomas 07:45

Now, I have my own particularly arthouse theory on our elected misrepresentation, John, and you've probably heard me talk about the fact that our population is tripled in the last 100 years since the Wilsonian technocrats cap the size of the US House of Representatives. And I look at places like New England, where several of the states have a couple of thousand people per representative district, and they still get things done in their General Assembly. So, I'm not against the idea of growing our representative part of government and shrinking the unrepresentative part in the bureaucracy. And I think that these ideas are about bringing in more variety, because honestly, at the end of the day, I look at the price list that Tom Garrett exposed, and Tommy Massie exposed in the film, 'The Swamp', and the price list that the political parties charged their elected officials just to be on committees. I mean, there are so many things where the political party has taken a disproportionate power, and so, I was curious about this to see if you thought this was a way to get more third and fourth party folks actually across the finish line, not just to eliminate them from the race?

John Pudner 09:03

Yes, it is a win/win because I think it's a win for independents because, if you have a legitimate conservative running for office, and let me say, I'd say in 2016, Evan McMullen was a legitimate conservative, now I'm not sure in the Senate race he was, because he changed on some of the issues, but if I was in Utah thinking of voting for Evan McMullen, who had a chance of winning that state, well, in the end, I wouldn't have, even if I wanted to, because I'd say, "Well, that's just a vote to help Hillary have a chance to win." This incentivizes you to go ahead and cast that vote. If Evan McMullen is my first choice, the kind of independent Republican, I'd vote because there's no downside, I'm not wasting my vote, because I can still list Trump second, or third, or whatever, in front of Hillary to make sure that Trump beats Hillary, if that is the choice. So, instead of having all these people bail on him then, when he was really conservative, they can vote for him, not hurting anyone, and you find out what the true support is. I mean, maybe his support really was 35%. He could have won Utah if it wasn't a wasted vote. So, it makes a legitimate independent able to get their full vote, but without it being wasted, but they also aren't the spoiler, so if they're only at 20%, they don't throw a race from Hillary to Trump. So, I think it's a win/win. I think it would give third parties a chance and I don't think it's a bad thing if they're not spoiling.

Joe Thomas 10:30

Well, let me ask you the last one here, John, and we will have this conversation, because again, I don't think any of this is changing, although Nevada just endorsed this, if I'm not mistaken in the last election....

John Pudner 10:42

In Nevada, the Republican governor took over the same say this pasted, so that was a great day, I thought.

Joe Thomas 10:49

So, last question. What about the argument that, "Oh, well, we're just going to wind up with everybody's second choice." Real quick, we have about 30 seconds.

John Pudner 10:59

It's a consensus choice. What you're not going to get is the candidate you disliked the most because you voted for one of the two you liked, and left the third one you couldn't stand get through, so you might get your second choice if you don't get your first choice, but if someone can win on the first ballot, you've got it. You're gonna get your first choice. You're giving them the best chance but you're also giving the worst candidate, in your eyes, the least chance of beating you.

Joe Thomas 11:25

It's John, good to hear from you, my friend. I'm glad we were able to connect.

John Pudner 11:31

Thank you for having me on.


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