The new group Americans Elect is trying to ease the path for an independent presidential candidate chosen by voters in a national Internet primary to appear on the election ballot in all 50 states. This is a tall order — achieving national ballot access for a third-party candidate to run against President Barack Obama and the Republican nominee is complicated and expensive.
Enthusiasm for this group is growing. But it could be misplaced. Tom Friedman said in The New York Times that Americans Elect will do to the two-party duopoly “what Amazon.com did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music [and] what drugstore.com did to pharmacies.” Perhaps.
Rather than gush about this group, I fear many aspects of it: its secrecy; the uncertain security for its Internet election and, most important, the lack of democracy in its system for electing a presidential nominee.
While it is providing voters a path to choose a presidential ticket through the democratizing force of the Internet, the process can, in fact, be overruled by a small board of directors, who organized the group. This board is to have unfettered discretion in picking a committee that can boot the presidential ticket chosen by voters if it is not sufficiently “centrist” and even dump the committee if it doesn’t like the direction it’s heading.
Campaign finance reformers have already condemned Americans Elect for switching its organizational status under the Tax Code from political organization to 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. This change allows an organization to shield its donors. The group, which says it has raised $22 million of its $30 million goal, insists that it doesn’t have to be registered as a political organization, with publicly disclosed donors, because it is not a political party. Americans Elect cites a court opinion, which ruled that a similar group in the last election, Unity08, did not have to register with the Federal Election Commission as a political organization because it was set up to achieve ballot access, not to pick a particular candidate.