As David Karpf wrote here ten days ago, the Americans Elect third-party experiment of 2012 looks like it has hit a dead end. No declared candidate is anywhere close to hitting the group’s requirement of earning 10,000 supporters across at least ten states, with at least 1,000 from each state. Former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer the closest at just 5,840. He has less than 600 from California. As Jonathan Tilove points out in his story in the Times-Picayune, that means Roemer has more followers on Twitter than he has supporters who actually want him on AE’s presidential ballot line. Americans Elect had an ambitious plan to hold several rounds of online voting to winnow down what its leaders had hoped would be a competitive field of national candidates, and spent a reported $35 million circulating ballot petitions and building the organizational and online infrastructure to attract those candidates to its fold. It also attracted a fair amount of media coverage for its efforts, and encomiums from the likes of Thomas Friedman, John Avlon and Lawrence Lessig. But it never caught on, in part for the reasons I outlined almost a year ago: the lack of transparency about its finances made potential supporters distrustful (even spawning a watchdog blog called AETransparency), and the evident lack of public interest in its founders’ evident desire to find a “centrist” candidate. It’s possible that AE could have evolved differently, but that would have required that the vehicle be more genuinely controlled by its supporters, and that was an option that AE’s leaders clearly didn’t want to allow.
Before anyone sticks a fork in AE and says they’re done, however, it’s worth considering two little-noticed facts. The first is that in every state where AE has established a ballot line–and now they’ve done so in about half the states–now there’s an open question about what will happen to that line. In theory, these state ballot lines should be controlled by state committees made up of local voters, who could act autonomously and use those lines for good or ill. When I asked Richard Winger, the longtime publisher of Ballot Access News, and the country’s leading authority on this topic, he told me, “In state after state, when I phone the state elections office and ask ‘Who is state chair?’ the person either says it is someone in Washington, DC, or someone in California, or they say ‘we don’t know.'” He said this was surprising and unprecedented in his experience tracking how states deal with minor parties.