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WYPR: Maryland Forward Party works to get 2024 ballot access

July 5, 2023
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks during a panel discussion at the Bitcoin Conference, Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Miami Beach, Fla. Thousands of cryptocurrency enthusiasts are gathering in Miami as the city builds its reputation as one of the key locations to develop the blockchain technology despite its underdog status. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
WYPR – 88.1 FM Baltimore | By Scott Maucione
Published July 5, 2023 at 10:44 AM EDT

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang speaks during a panel discussion at the Bitcoin Conference, Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Miami Beach, Fla. Yang and former Republican Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman formed the Forward Party just 20 months ago.

On a hot day in June, five people set up a tent on Carroll Creek in Frederick, Maryland during the annual Pride Festival. The volunteers were asking for signatures to get the Forward Party on the ballot in Maryland.

If that doesn’t ring any bells, you wouldn’t be faulted. The party is just 20 months old, formed by 2020 Democratic hopeful Andrew Yang and former Republican Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman.

The party needs 10,000 valid signatures to make it on the ballot for 2024.

“The Board of Elections is going to look at each and every one of these signatures and make sure we didn’t make something up,” said Matthew Byers, the chair of the Maryland Forward Party. “The Democrats and Republicans are going to work as hard as they can to scratch out as many of these signatures as possible and say these are invalid. We are aiming for 17,500 just to make sure.”

The party’s slogan is Not Left. Not Right. Forward. And it wants to reduce partisan polarization and implement electoral reforms.

It’s focusing on three main issues right now: ranked-choice voting, open primaries and independent commissions for redistricting.

Ranked-choice voting is a concept that’s already used in Alaska and Maine as well as a handful of large cities across the country.

Voters rank who they want to vote for — if their first choice isn’t one of the top two vote-getting candidates, then that choice is disregarded. Their vote then goes to their highest ranked candidate that ends up in the top two.

Open primaries allow anyone to vote in primary elections, not just people who belong to a specific party, and the Forward Party hopes independent commissions will align voting districts more with the population they represent and not with ploys to gain more votes in the House of Representatives.

Outside of that, the party is letting state parties and even individual candidates pick their platforms as long as they don’t espouse hate and stick to ideas that reduce polarization.

Many people are often wary of third parties due to the possible spoiler effect, where third parties candidates take votes away from the main two parties, which results in a less desirable candidate winning.

The Forward Party is doing things a little differently.

“We’re not interested in throwing a Hail Mary into either the presidential race or even into federal races,” said Joel Searby, the managing director of the national Forward Party. “The vast majority of the races that we’re focusing on are races where there is either an uncontested race, so the incumbent or the previous office holder has no one running against them, or better yet a vacant seat.”

To date, the Forward Party has recruited a handful of elected officials to their cause including members of the Pennsylvania state senate and the mayor of Newberry, Florida.

However, 2024 will be the first election where the party truly runs candidates.

At the pride festival, the party garnered more than 200 signatures.

Suz Packston said she signed because she thinks there needs to be some change in politics.

“Like many people I’m just very frustrated with the partisan politics and the stalemate and nothing getting done for actual citizens,” she said. “I’d like to see that change. You know, there’s so many awful things happening in this country and we’re focusing on stupid things like is there a rainbow in my beer. We’ve got to get some grownups in charge.”

William Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said the Forward Party’s concept is one that hasn’t been tried by third parties before.

“The Forward Party is proceeding in an atypical way,” he said. “They had made the decision to proceed from the bottom up rather than the top down. And that does make them distinctive, if not unique among movements of this sort.”

The Maryland Forward Party has a little over a year to get the signatures it needs. Then the real test will begin.