24 July 2011

How'd you like your own ballot line? Americans Elect make an offer

Thomas Friedman has been calling for a "radical center" alternative to Bipolarchy gridlock for some time now, but this weekend he writes that he may have found the perfect vehicle for it in the form of Americans Elect, a group that has rethought the usual order of electoral insurgency. Usually an independent movement forms around a candidate, then struggles to get a line on the ballot. As Friedman explains, Americans Elect are going about it the other way, getting a ballot line first in order to have something to offer a candidate. Friedman reports that the group has gotten the signatures it needs to get on the California ballot -- 1,600,000 -- and is shooting to be on every state ballot next year. With that battle already fought, the group hopes that whomever members draft to run for President will accept the honor. Like Get Out Of Our House, Americans Elect is open to everyone regardless of ideology. Individuals proposed as candidates will be winnowed down through rounds of voting to a final field of six. The final choice of an online convention will enjoy a presence on ballots across the country, if the signature collecting succeeds, on the condition that, should the candidate belong to an existing party, he or she must choose a running mate of another party. While this doesn't guarantee the ideological diversity the group appears to want (a Democrat could choose a Green, a Republican a Constitutionalist), the requirement does send a message of dissatisfaction with partisanship without handicapping the movement by forbidding it from nominating partisans.

However, it's a little unrealistic for Americans Elect to state on their website that there'll be "No special interests. No agendas. No partisanship" in their process when that process is by definition open to Republicans, Democrats and other partisans. While Libertarians, if anyone, are early favorites to dominate the proceedings because of their internet savvy, once the major parties take Americans Elect seriously they'll flood in to fight for control as they fight for control of all elected offices. The group has an admirable objective of allowing ordinary people to nominate a Presidential candidate without having to go through party channels, but through history direct democracy has been a matter of who shows up. If Democrats and Republicans show up they'll most likely turn Americans Elect to a bipolarchy in miniature. Politicians of the major parties may not like the requirement of choosing a running mate outside their own parties, but that'd be a small price to pay to keep the AE ballot line from a real independent. It's fair to note, however, that independence takes second place in the group's priorities to the ideal of direct democracy for nominating candidates. Americans Elect object to the existing nominating mechanisms, but if their system results in a standard "liberal" or "conservative" being chosen, what real difference will have been made? The group's candidates will only be as good as their voters, and won't be independent unless the voters are. While Americans Elect is worthy of encouragement, those of us who seek independence from the Bipolarchy should still seek ways to advance candidates independent of ideology as well as partisanship. Doing that may still require some self-segregation from partisans, but Americans Elect offers too enticing a prize for independents to ignore it. The prize may be worth the effort, but independents should keep all options open.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if maybe the notion of having a "third party" get a president elected isn't the wrong idea? How much power does the President really have? I think it would be far more useful to attempt to have a number of different third party members elected into congressional positions.

I think every "minority" group should work to ensure getting representation in congress - someone of their own race/religion/creed/sexual identity. It would diversify the political spectrum and help to destabilized partisanship. There should be openly gay representatives, cross-gendered reps. Representatives from more and varied immigrant groups. Muslim reps, wiccan reps, buddhist reps, etc. It will still take time to get things done, but it will be because of a true democratic process, rather than one side of a bipolarchy obstructing the other.

toto said...


In 2012, The National Popular Vote bill could guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

The bill would take effect when enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes-- enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). All the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR, CT, DE, DC, ME, MI, NV, NM, NY, NC, and OR, and both houses in CA, CO, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA ,RI, VT, and WA . The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, VT, and WA. These 8 jurisdictions possess 77 electoral votes-- 29% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


Samuel Wilson said...

Crhymethinc: I agree, as many third-party advocates do, that targeting the White House is a false priority. I'd go further than your suggestion and say that every "special interest" should seek the same goal. What American has the right to call another a "special interest," after all? And a diversity of interest rather than a bipolarchy of ideologies was what Madison envisioned in the first place.

toto: I'm not really thrilled about the NPV because it encourages the notion that the President represents "the entire American people," an idea that has ironically enabled an imperial presidency. Increasing the majoritarian factor in presidential elections also imposes an even greater handicap on third parties who can otherwise hope to force an election to the House of Representatives. And why would that be so awful?

d.eris said...

Definitely agree with the bottom up strategy, Crhyme and Sam. I'd say you'd probably have to start more local than Congress, maybe like the Vermont Progressive Party.

I wanted to mention though that Friedman's article just happened to come out at the same time as a similar puff piece by John Avlon at the Daily Beast. Which makes me suspicious.

I've written a couple articles on Americans Elect for CAIVN, and have found some critics who are actually basing their criticism on some investigative journalism rather than standard political snark. The best I've come across thus far is Jim Cook at Irregular Times. His basic position seems to be that Americans Elect is looking to forward the official "corporate candidate" in 2012. Some of his claims are a bit thin, but he has some good documentation, and is doing work no one else seems to be interested in.


Anonymous said...

Well, I'd agree with your "special interest" statement on the caveat that foreign special interests be discluded. I also believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment making it illegal for anyone who is not a registered voter to donate money to a political campaign or a PAC.

If you can't or are unwilling to vote, your voice should have no place in the halls of government.