November 16, 2012
The U.S. presidential nomination and election process is often criticized for its messiness and for producing, at times, some pretty mediocre candidates. But it is almost impossible to change, so from time to time reformers create something new to try to get around it.
One such effort is an outfit called “Americans Elect”, a self-styled new national political party incorporated in 2010 that was going to get on the ballot in all 50 states and nominate its presidential candidate via a Web-based national convention. It appeared to be a serious effort and well-funded (at least $20 million, according to the Christian Science Monitor).
I remember being concerned that another spoiler might affect the election of a president (see: Ralph Nader, 2000).
But this year no candidate of Americans Elect appeared on my ballot, and I could not recall seeing any recent news accounts about Americans Elect. What happened?
Naturally, Americans Elect has a website (AmericansElect.org), but currently it does not contain a lot of information. Its brief statement of principle says this:
“Politics aren’t working for people. This problem must be addressed at the root by fixing the way we elect our leaders. Changing the system by creating the first nonpartisan, national online presidential primary is a daunting task –changing history usually is.”
The website also lists former and current members of Americans Elect’s Board of Directors and a 105-person “Board of Advisors.” There are some recognizable names.
The Board of Advisors includes Andrew Doctoroff, formerly a top aide to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Roderick and Carla Hills, respectively former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and former Secretary of HUD under President Gerald Ford, and former FBI director William Webster.
On the Board of Directors, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, environmental lawyer and former Carter White House staffer Eliot R. Cutler and former Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair are listed as “former” directors. Only three persons are listed as current directors, and I didn’t recognize any of their names.
Digging back, I found that one of those directors, Peter Ackerman, had started Americans Elect and provided initial funding. Ackerman is a wealthy investment firm executive who formerly worked for Michael Milken, the promoter of junk bonds. Ackerman later founded the International Center on Non-violent Conflict, which conducted workshops for democracy activists in countries around the world.
Ackerman and his cohorts had obviously devoted a lot of thought to the design of his project.
Any registered voter could become a “delegate” by registering and going through an identity verification process at the Americans Elect website (eventually Americans Elect claimed to have amassed over 400,000 delegates). Any delegate could “draft” a candidate, and any U.S. citizen could self-declare as a candidate. That was the easy part.
To make it into the first round of nomination voting, a candidate had to “qualify” by demonstrating wide support. For this step, there were two different standards, depending on the candidate’s resume. The first group (lets call them “personages”) consisted of anyone:
“… who has served in any of the following positions without removal from office of current criminal indictment or conviction: Vice President, United States Senator, Member of Congress, Presidential Cabinet Member, Head of a federal agency, Governor, Mayor of any of the largest 100 cities in the United States, Chairman or Chief Executive Officer or President of any corporation or nonprofit corporation or philanthropic organization with 1,000 or more employees, President of a national labor union with 100,000 or more members, military officer who has attained flag rank, Ambassador, and President of an American-based university with more than 4,000 members.”
The second group (let’s call them “shlubs”) consisted of everyone else.
A personage could make it onto the ballot by receiving at least 1,000 unique on-line delegate votes per state, from at least ten states, which would amount to not less than 10,000 votes total. A shlub would have to receive at least 50,000 delegate votes total to be on the ballot.
Thereafter, a series of votes would winnow the field down to one candidate, who would become the nominee. Then the nominee was required to select a vice-presidential running mate from outside his or her own political party.
It seemed like a well-thought-out process. Remember, this was at a time when Washington gridlock was about to enter its nadir in a last-second compromise to extend the national debt, which resulted in the first-ever downgrade of the U.S.A.’s credit rating. The idea of a centrist third party was becoming appealing.
And it was taken seriously. Time Magazine carried a lengthy story about the group. The Christian Science Monitor said, “…the political climate couldn’t be riper for a serious third-party alternative, as dissatisfaction is soaring with a two-party system that appears to be dithering in the face of national financial crisis.”
In July, 2011 respected New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote:
“Write it down: Americans Elect. What Amazon.com did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what drugstore.com did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life – remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in. Watch out. ”
Americans Elect had made it onto the Michigan presidential ballot and those of of 28 other states by May 2012, when its first round of voting was scheduled to end. But when you and I began marking our ballots this month, no Americans Elect candidate was listed.
So, what happened? Who won the Americans Elect nomination?
Nobody. That’s right, nobody. Not one candidate received enough votes even to make it into the first round. The closest self-declared candidate was former Louisiana governor Buddy Roehmer, with 4,400 votes. The closest “draft” candidate was –wait for it, wait for it– Ron Paul, with 8,700.
It appears that Americans Elect intermediaries approached well-known national figures, including Michael Bloomberg and David Petreus, but they declined to run. No credible, moderate candidate came forward.
And that’s really no surprise. What did Americans Elect have to offer? Multi-state ballot access. That’s it. And that’s not nearly enough.
To mount an effective national campaign requires either a lot of dedicated followers or a lot of money, preferably both. It takes time and effort to build a national base of followers who are willing to do the campaign grunt work. Anyone who already has this base is likely to be a major figure in one of the two national parties or an ideological purist. To run for president on a third party ticket would almost certainly destroy the candidate’s relationship with his or her national party. That’s probably one reason people like Bloomberg and Condoleezza Rice weren’t interested. An ideologue, on the other hand, seems like the kind of politician Americans Elect was trying to discourage (and Ron Paul wasn’t interested either).
So on May 17, Americans Elect announced that it would present no nominee for the 2012 election, and another Utopian scheme lay broken on the rocks of human nature.