What Is The Forward Party’s Platform?
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A response to the most frequently-asked question about the new party. Union ForwardRead More
One question comes up more than any other among those interested in or skeptical of the Forward Party: aside from voting reform, what is the party’s platform?
The Forward platform is a blueprint for ending the two-party system and rebuilding the two-way relationship between citizens and our government.
Many Americans are raising legitimate questions about what the party’s goals would be if its candidates were to win elections. This question, however, is not exactly the right one to ask to better understand the Forward Party—yet. National party leaders adamantly refuse to dictate a rigid platform to their rapidly-expanding ranks, instead aiming to empower local and state party leaders to be the movement’s trailblazers.
The new party’s preoccupation with voting reform reflects the fact that the vast majority of elections in the 21st century are decided by a dedicated segment of the Democratic and Republican parties who can vote in the party primaries. By the time of the general election, when all voters can participate, the outcome is predetermined in 80 or 90 percent of elections nationwide.
The chief electoral concern of candidates in the United States today is a challenge from within their own closed party primary. The Forward Party contends that the electoral incentives of candidates must be changed so they are concerned with winning over 51 percent of all voters rather than a simple plurality of the dedicated Democrats and Republicans who vote in primaries.
There is also a practical element to the party’s emphasis on voting reform. The third party “spoiler effect” reduces minor parties in the U.S. to electoral irrelevancy, and it must be eliminated through voting reform before a minor party candidate can hope to engage in a competitive election.
So long as third parties have no legitimate path to power, their platforms will have little significance or impact on Americans’ lives. The paramount concern of third parties for the foreseeable future must be creating that path to power. Instead of a set of ideological goals with no underlying plan to enact them, the Forward Party’s platform is a blueprint for creating a path to multi-party government.
Launched just one year ago, the party is in its early stages of development. Party leaders often remind supporters that what they are proposing is not a project measured in years, but in decades. Those who are following its journey should not expect it to resemble a traditional national political party for some time.
The party is prioritizing municipal elections—where policy can have the most impact on peoples’ lives, and which are often uncontested or non-partisan—while simultaneously working to pass voting reforms that will allow them to be competitive at the state and national level.
Forward Party candidates will have their own policies and ideas when they launch their campaigns. They will be united, however, by the party’s three key priorities, and three process-focused, non-partisan reforms included in their platform.
Forward Priorities — More Unites Us Than Divides Us
The Forward Party’s ethos is defined by its three elemental priorities: free people, thriving communities, and vibrant democracy.
Forwardists view American culture as a celebration of our individuality and differences. Political parties that prescribe rigid platforms dictated from the top down forget that American government was designed as a tool to eliminate institutional barriers for people to pursue their own freedom and happiness. It was not designed as a tool for the winning group to impose their will on the masses.
American communities need flourishing economies and safety in our schools and workplaces to thrive. The 21st century economy has left behind countless communities as manufacturing jobs slowly vanished and costs of living escalated. Forwardists believe that the invigoration of American communities should be led by local and state leaders who know better than national officials what is best for them.
The vibrancy of American democracy has been degraded by partisan politics that have rendered most elections “safe” or non-competitive and significantly eroded trust in our government. Forwardists contend that our republic is in desperate need of reforms that reintroduce competition, forcing representatives to answer to voters again instead of their party’s leaders.
So long as the principal electoral concern of officials in the U.S. is a challenge in party primaries from the far-right or far-left, they will be more beholden to those small groups than to the public at-large.
With these fundamental priorities in mind, the Forward Party platform consists of three pillars: voting reform, non-partisan primaries, and independent redistricting commissions.
I. Voting Reform
The party champions ranked-choice voting (RCV), score-then-automatic-runoff voting (STAR), and approval voting as alternatives to the traditional U.S. voting system, known as first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting.
RCV, in particular, has earned broad nationwide support, with voters in Maine and Alaska approving ballot referendums to adopt the new voting system in 2016 and 2020, respectively. Nevada followed suit in this year’s elections, and will ask voters in 2024 to affirm RCV for statewide use.
In a ranked-choice election, voters list candidates in order of preference rather than selecting just one or the other. If one candidate reaches 50 percent of the vote after the initial count, they are declared the winner. If no candidate reaches 50 percent upon the initial count, then the candidate who received the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Voters who ranked this candidate first now have their votes redistributed to the candidate they ranked second.
This process of elimination and redistribution continues until one candidate reaches 50 percent of the vote, ensuring that the winner is preferable or satisfactory for a majority of voters. FPTP voting—the traditional U.S. voting system—has a tendency to elect candidates who did not earn a majority of the popular vote, as seen in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016.
Forward Party leaders argue that independent and minor party candidates will be able to run competitive campaigns in a system that allows voters to rank their preferences with the assurance that their vote cannot be “wasted.” If a voter’s first choice is eliminated, their vote will simply transfer to their second choice.
The principle of “one person, one vote” is upheld by RCV since a person’s vote only transfers to another candidate if their first choice is eliminated from the race. STAR and approval voting, for better or worse, diverge from this principle by allowing voters to cast a single ballot for multiple candidates.
In 2022, more than 60 percent of Americans support RCV. It was notably used in Alaska for the first time this year, when voters chose former tribal judge Mary Peltola over former Governor Sarah Palin. Supporters of RCV cheered Peltola’s outspoken advocacy for the conservation of Alaska’s fish as a reflection of a key promise of the new voting method: to elect candidates who champion community issue rather than their party’s national ambitions.
Alaska’s 2022 elections demonstrated how partisanship can fall short within a voting system that incentivizes candidates to build broad coalitions. A candidate whose only electoral concern is defeating a more extreme partisan in a closed party primary is going to have dramatically different incentives than a candidate who is concerned with winning over 51 percent of all voters.
Even if third party candidates do not win elections in the coming years, changing the way Americans vote would change the behavior of those already in office by changing who they must appeal to for votes.
STAR voting, the second voting method included in the Forward platform, was first proposed as a concept in 2014 by entrepreneur Mark Frohnmayer as a more complete realization of the promise of RCV. The motivation behind the development of STAR voting was to reduce incentives for strategic voting that Frohnmayer believes exist in ranked-choice elections.
In this system, voters can rate as many candidates as they want on a scale of 0 to 5 stars. The two candidates with the highest scores advance to a runoff, and the one that is preferred on more ballots is declared the winner. STAR voting gives voters extensive freedom to express nuanced views on their ballots, and strategic voting is reduced as a result.
Strategic voting is apparent with the traditional U.S. voting system in voters’ unwillingness to cast a ballot for a minor party candidate. As much as voters may want to support an independent or a minor party candidate, those who do are chastised for “wasting” their vote or “spoiling” the election.
Advocates of STAR voting argue that strategic voting is still incentivized by a ranked-choice system, since voters could rank major party candidates first in the hopes of a first-round victory.
STAR voting has appeared on a ballot referendum once since its inception. In 2018, the novel voting method was proposed to voters in Lane County, Oregon, and was rejected by a margin of just under 5 percent. In the years since the 2018 ballot measure, however, the Democratic, Libertarian, and Independent parties of Oregon have all implemented STAR voting for internal party votes.
The third and final voting method in the Forward platform is approval voting, which asks voters to “approve” of however many candidates they wish. The candidate with the most approval votes is declared the winner.
An approval voting system would be the most cost-effective to transition to from FPTP voting, and the spoiler effect would be eliminated since voters could not accidentally benefit a candidate whom they oppose by “approving” of an independent or minor party candidate. Approval voting differs from RCV and STAR, however, in that it does not allow voters to vote in order of preference, placing the same weight on each approval vote cast.
Similar to RCV and STAR voting, strategic voting is reduced under an approval system since voters can approve of minor and major party candidates equally. Instead of selecting one candidate or the other, voters are asked to select any and all candidates they would approve.
In 2018, Fargo, North Dakota voted in favor of a ballot initiative to use approval voting for municipal elections, becoming the first U.S. city to do so. St. Louis, Missouri became the second in 2020.
Forward Party leaders argue that each of these methods have benefits and drawbacks, though any of the three would be a tremendous improvement from how most states currently vote. RCV has earned a considerable amount of nationwide support, though the national party encourages states to implement the reforms that work best for them.
II. Non-partisan Primaries
The second pillar of the new party’s platform is a reform known as non-partisan primaries, in which candidates from all parties compete in one primary. The top finishers advance to the general election, sometimes pitting members of the same party against one another.
The Forward Party argues that non-partisan primaries would liberate the 41 percent of Americans who are independent from procedural barriers to their participation in democracy. An election system that invites all voters and all parties to participate in one primary would more closely reflect the will of the people rather than seeking to reflect the will of just one party’s voters.
General elections in most states today are non-competitive, primarily as a result of gerrymandering. Just 15 percent of seats in Congress were deemed to be competitive in 2022. In most districts, one party is assured victory, meaning the winners are ultimately chosen in primaries.
In a political system where the eventual general election winners are mostly determined in primaries, the Democratic and Republican parties—neither of which represent even a plurality of the public—have amassed a staggering degree of control over the process of voting for our leaders.
The chief contention against non-partisan primaries is that parties should have control over their candidate selection process, and should not be required to allow non-members to have a say. Forwardists argue that modern circumstances have allowed the two legacy parties to control the levers of our democratic process to remain in power despite the public largely abandoning them. The tenacity with which the Democratic and Republican parties cling to power threatens to accelerate the erosion of average Americans’ influence on government.
Two states—California and Washington—use non-partisan primaries today. California, in particular, has seen notable changes to its state politics in the years since implementing the reform. In 2010, the state legislature’s approval rating stood at a paltry 14 percent. In an effort to find new direction for their state government, voters that year approved a ballot measure to implement a top-two non-partisan primary system.
By 2012, California had the most competitive elections in the nation. By 2017, the legislature’s approval had skyrocketed to 57 percent. As a result of the reform, general elections in the liberal state often see Democrats running against Democrats. The change has reintroduced competition in places where the two-party system previously prevented it.
Conservative areas could see competition reintroduced by sending two Republicans to the general election, just as California did for its liberal regions. The spread of these reforms will expand the number of regions in which a third party could reasonably become competitive in the coming years.
The Forward Party argues that RCV and non-partisan primaries must be viewed as a pair to achieve both representation for independents in primary elections and the elimination of the third party spoiler effect. Alaska passed the two in conjunction in 2020, and Nevada voted in favor of both this year, while California, Maine, and Washington have each passed just one of the two.
III. Independent Redistricting Commissions
The third and final pillar of the Forward platform is independent redistricting commissions. The Forward Party believes that control of the redistricting process should be in the hands of non-partisan or multi-partisan institutions.
Gerrymandering has created a political environment in which many representatives effectively choose their voters rather than being chosen by their voters. The majority of elected officials today face the only competition for their seat in party primaries where just 25 to 35 percent of the public can participate. By the time of the general election, when all voters can participate, the vast majority of the winners have been predetermined.
The Democratic and Republican parties use redistricting as a tool to entrench their political power by increasing the number of “safe seats,” or seats that cannot be reasonably contested by the opposition. Voters in states that allow the party in power to redraw districts see their elections rendered largely non-competitive, and judicial injunctions—such as in 2021 against the Democratic Party in New York—are often the only chance for recourse.
Six states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, and Washington—have appointed non-partisan or bipartisan commissions to redraw districts. These commissions serve to ensure that districts are not unduly influenced by partisan interests, thus reinforcing the power of voters to choose their own representation.
The Forward Party emphasizes that partisan battles over redistricting can bleed into other areas and escalate institutional damage. The collection of census data in 2020, for example, became a significant point of controversy following the Trump administration’s decision to conclude data collection weeks earlier than expected. The decision threatened to leave millions of Americans who were hard to reach out of the census, thus diminishing their political power in the new districts.
Forwardists believe the redistricting process should be shielded from partisan battles to preserve the political power of those who would primarily be left out: renters, non-English speakers, and racial minorities.
A defining feature of the emergent party is its decentralized platform and decision-making process.
The power to shape the party’s future appears to lie more in the hands of state and local members than national leaders. In Utah, for example, Forwardists are advocating for approval voting and campaign finance reform. The Colorado Forward Party is hosting a virtual discussion around proportional representation this week.
The Forward Party is an attempt to create an open-source political party. National leaders do not claim to have a one-size-fits-all set of policies that will work for everyone, everywhere. No one is turned away for their party affiliation or ideological beliefs, and state party leaders are highly encouraged to take the approach they want for their state.
In this sense, the Forward Party is a reflection of several of America’s founding principles: the decentralization of power and the sovereignty of states as hotbeds of experiments in different forms of democracy. Forwardists are united by a conviction that a two-party system erodes representative government by centralizing power in the hands of party leaders, a conviction that was also held by our Founding Fathers.
The Forward platform is not made up of ideological goals that party leaders hope to one day implement nationwide. It is a blueprint for ending the two-party system and rebuilding the two-way relationship between citizens and our government.
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