MLive | Tired of left-right gridlock? Forward Party vying for Michigan’s 2024 ballot.


Heather Herrygers believes America’s two-party system cannot represent everyone. The political spectrum “has nothing to do with a straight line,” she says, as the same person can have strong views befitting both a Democrat and a Republican.

That’s why she co-leads the Forward Party in Michigan. Announced last month, Forward is a nationwide effort led by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and former Republican New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.

Forward wants to be a locally focused third-party alternative to Democrats and the GOP, who leaders say control a gridlocked and hyper-polarized political system. Forward’s leaders will hold events across the country this year, culminating in an official launch on Sept. 24 and a convention next summer.

“We’re creating a political home for those who are not on either end of the spectrum,” said Herrygers, a 43-year-old photographer from Ottawa County who volunteered for Yang in his 2020 presidential bid.

Andrew Yang Detroit debate
FILE: Andrew Yang, businessman, gets ready to go live inside CNN’s Spin Room after the second Democratic primary debate on Wednesday hosted by CNN at The Fox Theatre in Detroit, July 31, 2019. Tanya Moutzalias | MLive.comTanya Moutzalias |

A recent Michigan virtual event attracted Yang supporters, political centrists, supporters of past third-party candidates like Ross Perot and others just generally tired of political polarization.

“I don’t think it requires a political science degree to look around and recognize that our politics is broken,” said national organizing director Will Conway.

Forward’s policy platform is simple: ranked-choice voting, nonpartisan primaries and independent redistricting commissions. Michigan implemented that third one in 2018, but the other two are structural changes that won’t come easy.

Ranked-choice voting, which exists statewide in Alaska and Maine, has voters rank candidates instead of choosing only one. And in nonpartisan primaries, every candidate for an office runs against each other, with the top two – regardless of ideology – advancing to the general election.

Beyond that, the party’s core principles include celebrating differences, rejecting hate and preserving a fair and flourishing economy.

“The reality is that most people in the state of Michigan, most people nationally, are nuanced, thoughtful people who are looking for change in a better, brighter future,” Conway said.

Forward plans to get legal recognition in 15 states by the end of this year, twice that number in 2023 and in almost all states by the end of 2024. Michigan is one of 15 states it sees as a priority, Conway said, given strong enthusiasm already on the ground and how hard it is to get on the ballot.

State law says proposed parties must gather enough signatures to at least equal 1% of total votes cast in the last governor election. The Patriot Party, a proposed far-right offshoot of the GOP, failed to turn in a required 42,506 signatures last month.

Not only did the Patriots have to get tens of thousands of signatures, but 100 each needed to come from at least half of Michigan’s congressional districts, and all needed gathered within a 180-day window.

After signature submission comes a review by the Bureau of Elections that includes signature verification and hearing of challenges by opposition groups. If staffers estimate the party has enough valid signatures, they recommend the Board of State Canvassers give final approval.

State law also says the earliest that Forward could start collecting signatures is Jan. 1, 2024. Conway said the goal is to run Forward candidates at least in the general election that year.

Forward’s strategy begins with local races

Will there be enough support for this party? Maybe to get on the ballot, says Grand Valley State University political science professor Whitt Kilburn, but maybe not to make a structural impact on Michigan politics.

“Most Americans, when they’re asked in surveys do they tend to think of themselves as a Democrat, Republican, an independent or what, they’ll choose either Democrat or Republican,” said Kilburn, whose subject areas include public opinion and political psychology.

Before the 2020 election, about 8 in 10 voters told Pew pollsters they planned to vote straight-ticket. Kilburn acknowledged the two-party system “discourages third parties from being successful” but said their success lies in being big tents that hog a side of the political spectrum.

“Even though people don’t like it, they still want their side to win,” he said. “People might be turned off by the polarization, but Democrats prefer a Democratic policy agenda and Republicans prefer a Republican one.”

The Forward Party’s approach, however, is to start local and influence from the smallest offices up, as those people have direct say on where federal and state money goes.

“Change is better served and comes better from local city council, board of education, county commissioner,” Conway said. “These are races that really highly and intensely impact local communities around the nation.”

He noted there are roughly 506,000 local races nationwide this year, and 70% are either uncontested or have little chance of changing leadership.

Not all local races, though, run candidates with a party ID. School board races in Michigan aren’t partisan, and it depends where you live if city council and county commissioner candidates run under a party.

Until 2024, Forward will instead endorse local candidates, Herrygers said, noting that current political party doesn’t matter “as long as they fall in line with the principles and what we’re looking to achieve.”

Signature gathering infrastructure will come closer to 2024, she said, with town halls and meet-and-greets scheduled in Michigan this year. Leaders are also meeting this month to get strategy tips from Katie Fahey, who led Michigan’s redistricting reform efforts.

“People who haven’t participated in their democracy, hopefully this is a welcome change for them and they want to get involved,” Herrygers said. “Because we’re not telling you how to think, we’re just telling you that there’s a place for you and to join our conversation.”

By Ben Orner | [email protected]