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Growing Pains for Americans Elect

Posted on the 24 February 2012 by ---
More than 3 months ago, I wrote an article about an exciting new circumvention of the political system called Americans Elect.  You can find that initial article here.  As time has passed, some of the flaws in this process have emerged, and I find myself no longer looking at Americans Elect through rose-colored glasses.  So, here is my updated analysis of the fledgling organization.
Here are the positives:
  • First of all, Americans Elect is a sleek outfit.  Their website and YouTube videos (one above) are full of appealing graphics and slogans.  They seem to have employed a multitude of consultants and focus groups to hone their pitch, and they are spreading the message with a slew of web advertisements.
  • Second, the message really resonates.  The majority of Americans are disgusted with the two-party system and want a third choice, especially a bipartisan one like Americans Elect in which the winning candidate must choose a running mate from another party.  And, they want one chosen via direct democracy, not by political insiders or a convoluted and complex nomination process.  The concept of an online convention that any registered voter can participate in dovetails perfectly with current American sentiments and values.
  • Third, the crowd-sourced debate is an excellent idea and seems to be running smoothly.  Users submit question ideas that can be voted up or down by the community.  Candidates must answer the top-rated questions before the convention. 
Now, here are the negatives.
  • Americans Elect is dealing with anemic organizational growth.  Despite the intensive outreach, it has just 9,000 Twitter followers and 463,000 Facebook fans.  More distressing: since the fanfare of its launch, signature totals have increased only incrementally.  The current total is 2.47 million, enough to get the Americans Elect nominee on the ballot in eighteen states.  Though impressive, it is a far cry from the stated goals of 5 million signatures and a ballot presence in 50 states.  Americans Elect is not on pace to be anywhere near those benchmarks by the deadlines for signature submission.  To make matters worse, there are 17 states in which no signature collection has taken place yet.  Americans Elect is also running against legal problems due the unorthodox structure of the 'party,' which impedes the likelihood that it will reach the 50-state threshold and gain the essential credibility this provides.
  • Despite the organization's pretense of being above the scrum of the two-party system that has divided America, it is very much embroiled in it.  Most funding has come from undisclosed wealthy contributors, and the board consists of former politicians and corporate bigwigs (E-Trade, Hallmark, etc.).  Meanwhile, the group's Ballot Access Adviser, Michael Arno, has a history of involvement in signature gathering fraud.
  • The way Americans Elect matches voters with candidates is clumsy.  Voters answer an endless set of questions that are repetitious and often irrelevant.  For example, one I answered was a philosophical question about why natural resources exist.  Most candidate profiles are simply a short list of ideological positions sourced from a third-party database that lack nuance and sometimes accuracy.  My best match came up as Jon Huntsman, even though I disagree with him on several key issues and policy prescriptions.  Americans Elect has begun unveiling candidate-designed profiles, which should begin to remedy this issue.  However, there is a long way to go for the matching process to be useful.
  • The winning candidate will probably refuse the nomination.  Out of the top nine most supported candidates, only three (Barack Obama, Buddy Roemer, Gary Johnson) are at all likely to accept the nomination.  The leading candidate, Ron Paul, has declared he will not.  If Americans Elect chooses a candidate who refuses to campaign, it will become a laughingstock and a huge failure.  And, even if Americans Elect can field a serious ticket, the candidate will have trouble getting into debates and raising money in a short amount of time.
  • If the Americans Elect candidate is competitive, he or she will guarantee a Republican victory.  When no candidate reaches 270 electoral votes (which would happen if Americans Elect won several states), the decision goes to the House of Representatives.  The heavily Republican body will invariably select the Republican nominee as the 45th President.
Americans Elect has a positive message and an admirable mission.  The main stumbling blocks lie in the execution of its lofty goals.  The organization needs to make a lot of improvements to become palatable to a critical mass of voters.  Until then, it's probably not worth your time to get involved.

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