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Forward Party faces uphill battle as it preps to run its first slate of candidates

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

The startup Forward Party faces an uphill battle as it prepares to run its first slate of candidates. The party was started last year by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and former Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman. It's now setting its sights on the 2024 elections. WYPR's Scott Maucione has more from Maryland.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What we're doing is we're collecting names right now. So we're trying...

SCOTT MAUCIONE, BYLINE: Members of the newly formed Forward Party are set up at the Pride Festival in Frederick, Md., on a hot June day. The party, which wants to reduce partisan polarization and implement electoral reforms, needs 10,000 valid signatures to put anyone on the ballot in Maryland for any office in the upcoming 2024 election. Matthew Beyers is the chair of the Maryland Forward Party.

MATTHEW BEYERS: The board of elections is going to look at each and every one of these signatures and make sure these are real people and that we didn't make something up. And the Democrats and the 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're aiming for 17,500 just to make sure.

MAUCIONE: The party's slogan is, not left; not right; forward. But its platform right now is pretty barebones. There are only a few main tenets that the party's pushing for. The highest priority is ranked-choice voting. Brandon Barrett is Maryland Forward Party's vice chair.

BRANDON BARRETT: They can rank their candidates order of preference so they don't feel like they're wasting a vote.

MAUCIONE: It's a concept that's already used in Alaska and Maine, as well as a handful of large cities across the country. Voters rank for 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 on to the highest-ranked candidate that ends up in the top two.

JOEL SEARBY: We're not interested in throwing a Hail Mary into either the presidential race or even into federal races.

MAUCIONE: Joel Searby's the managing director of the national Forward Party. The idea is to challenge the two-party system without having to worry about third parties spoiling elections. The Forward Party is trying to stray away from blockbuster races and instead focus on getting people into office.

SEARBY: 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 officeholder has no one running against them.

MAUCIONE: To date, the Forward Party's recruited a handful of elected officials to their cause, including members of the Pennsylvania State Senate and the mayor of Newberry, Fla. But 2024 will be the first election where the Forward Party is truly running candidates. Apart from its focus on electoral reform, the party's letting the state parties and even individual candidates decide what ideologies are right for them.

WILLIAM GALSTON: The Forward Party is proceeding in an atypical way.

MAUCIONE: William Galston is a governance studies senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

GALSTON: 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.

MAUCIONE: Back at the Pride Festival in Maryland, the Forward Party is getting a steady flow of traffic. Suz Packston enthusiastically put down her John Hancock on the petition.

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

MAUCIONE: The day ended with more than 200 signatures to put the Forward Party on the ballot, but they still have a long way to go to reach a valid 10,000.

For NPR News, I'm Scott Maucione in Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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