In today’s political climate, the American government has some people frustrated. “Occupiers” are camped out in public parks, “tea partiers” are convinced the country is on the wrong track and others are convinced that the government is absolutely dysfunctional.
Americans Elect has a different idea: if two-party politics isn’t working out for you, change the system. The organization hopes to do just that, by providing the infrastructure for a third-party ticket to have ballot access in all fifty states.
The plan is for candidates to be nominated and then selected in a nationwide online primary, where voters of any and all political affiliations would take to the Internet to vote for their desired ticket.
The goal, said Chief Operating Officer Elliot Ackerman, is to give more people a voice in choosing the Commander-in-Chief and to also make that person responsible to a broader range of interests.
“We’re really re-imagining the way we pick a president and our leaders by encouraging more involvement and putting more power into the hands of every registered voters,” Ackerman told The Daily Caller.
“If you can change the way we pick our leaders, you can ultimately change the way they govern,” he said, by forcing them to be responsive to a larger part of the electorate.
“I think the lesson of 2008 was you can’t just rely on changing the person in the White House. We have to figure out a way to change how we elect our president because that affects the way that they’ll govern. We need leadership that isn’t just responsive to the base of the party,” said Nick Troiano, the campus coordinator for the organization.
While past campaigns, like President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, used technology in new ways, Josh Levine, Americans Elect’s Chief Technology Officer, says they used new tools to further the same old goals. Americans Elect, on the other hand, is going to revolutionize the primary system.
“We expect that mass participation will happen because everybody has access to the technology,” he said. “You couldn’t do this before — a national primary — because you would have had to go from state to state and make sure everybody was in line and it’s just not going happen. But with the Internet, you can do it from your living room.”
“We are living in a digital world that’s stuck with an analog elections system,” echoed Troiano. “We know that one day we’re all going to be voting this way – online and using our new technology … Why wait?”
There’s one catch: any nominee of Americans Elect must select a vice presidential candidate of a different party.
Our current political system, Ackerman said, “disincentivizes cooperation across party lines … you’re punished by it in our political system … you get primaried.” Americans Elect, on the other hand, is “rewarding that type of behavior.”
There are several problems with the current primary system, Ackerman said. The first is that, because the Democratic and Republican nominees are selected by each party’s base, the system “selects our leaders from the far right or the far left of the political party.” Moreover, only a select group of people is permitted to vote in most states, where being a registered member of the party is a requirement. And even these primary voters only have a real impact if they live in one of the states that holds its primary early in the process. Otherwise, by the time they get to vote, the nominee has usually already been decided.
By “leveraging technology,” Ackerman said, more people can have ballot access. Moreover, he said, the current field of candidates is “noncompetitive,” and Americans seem to be searching for another option.
“You’ve got President Obama isn’t even polling at 50 percent, and when the American people are directly asked do you think he deserves to be the president of the United States he doesn’t break 50 percent. And then we have a Republican field, where nobody can even pull within 5 percent of President Obama,” Ackerman said.
Voters, he said, often feel like election day means “'[choosing] between the lesser of two evils.’ Well what we’re saying at Americans Elect is there’s something you can do about it.”
“We’re not a political party. We have no ideology that we’re espousing, we have no special interests, and we have no candidate, and we don’t advocate for any of the candidates. We’re just putting out the scaffolding,” Ackerman said. That so-called “scaffolding,” is ballot access in all fifty states.
But no political party means no money. “We’re not raising money for them,” Ackerman said. “They’ll have to raise money themselves.”
That fact gives Reed Galen, a California-based Republican strategist, pause, though he generally likes the concept of Americans Elect.
Given the “ungodly amount of money” that Obama will raise, and the slightly less enormous amount of money the Republican nominee will raise, Galen said, “there will be probably billions with a B dollars worth of money spent on voter contact between mail, TV, and radio, and phone calls … And the question is how is the Americans Elect candidate going to break through this noise?”
Ackerman says the answer is technology.
“The way presidential campaigns have been run fundamentally has really gone unchanged for nearly fifty years: these big TV buys, these big media buys It’s ripe for a more efficient type of campaign,” he said. “Now does that, cost nothing? No. But does it cost only a third to a half of what the two major candidates are spending? Yeah.”
Moreover, he said, without the traditional primary process, the Americans Elect candidate wouldn’t “have to dump money into Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.”
But Galen predicted that the lack of a party identification could become an issue on the other side of a primary. While Republicans and Democrats each have their solidly safe states and can target most of their resources in a general election toward the “battleground states,” as Galen called them, “this person has to go fight it out in all fifty states,” a task which will call for a lot of money.
Whether or not it will have an effect in the 2012 presidential race is up for debate.
“Regardless of party affiliation, anything that has the opportunity to bring more people into the political process and to get them to the polls I think is a good thing,” Galen said. He lauded the program for using the Internet as a way to appeal to the broad audience that already uses it for many aspects of their lives.
Moreover, Galen said the group was being practical about ensuring ballot access. “They understand that it’s one thing to have a group like this, and it’s an entirely different thing to actually get anyone elected,” he said.
But, Galen concluded, “I think the idea of how you get from a good idea to having a true third party is a longer road … My guess is it’s probably another cycle if not two before they have ballot access in all these places to be a party … and they still haven’t really solved the mechanical problem of how they’re going to elect someone once they put those people on the ballot,” he added.
Mark McKinnon, a co-founder of No Labels, an advocacy group for politicians to put aside party labels and do what is best for the country regardless of ideology, took a much more unambiguously positive view of the group.
“Americans Elect is bold and exciting idea that is re-imagining democracy. And not a moment too soon. The system is broken,” McKinnon told TheDC.
“No Labels is working within the established system to try and encourage more civil dialogue and bipartisan behavior. Americans Elect is working to change the system,” McKinnon explained. “What they have in common is a recognition that hyper-partisanship has paralyzed or country. I’m for anything disruptive to the current system, so I support both efforts.”
“And as soon as the Republican primary sorts itself out, I believe a lot of people are going to be dissatisfied with choices and look around and ask, ‘Is this it? Is this the only choice we’ve got?’ And the answer will be, ‘No. There is Americans Elect.’ And then I think it’s going to get interesting,” he said.
“I don’t exactly what the outcome will be,” he added. “Potentially, the effort will elect the next president. At the very least, Americans Elect is going to stir things up.”
Republican political consultant Dan Hazelwood, on the other hand, was unimpressed.
“They have as much a chance of nominating a credible ticket as I do of winning an American Idol competition,” Hazelwood told TheDC. “Could they ‘affect’ the race? Sure, but that is a low threshold. Their sole ambition is to be as big a thorn as Ralph Nader was in 2000. If there is a lag time in the early summer the press will look at this group and wag their tongues. Then we will be done.”