Weary of political gridlock and partisan bickering? A startup called Americans Elect is offering a fresh option to the dysfunctional political scene by giving a special platform to citizens of all political stripes through its open online presidential convention and online community.
The effort is designed to yield a “credible” alternative to the major presidential candidates. It will allow registered voters to sign up as “delegates” and nominate their own presidential candidates, which will be winnowed down to six nominees in April 2012. Finally, one nominee will emerge as the American Elects candidate from this process in June 2012, and (hopefully) appear on the ballot in all 50 states.
Delegates from the community will help to shape the platform for their preferred candidates by posing policy questions to them. In true bipartisan spirit, the organization requires that each of the six presidential candidates nominated through the online convention choose a running mate from another party.
The organization’s online presidential convention was designed to afford a “second process” and foster “political innovation,” not to create a “third party,” notes Elliot Ackerman, COO of Americans Elect.
Americans Elect has already secured a “certified” spot on the presidential ballot in four states, and it has gathered sufficient signatures for such a spot in six other states, reports Ainsely Perrien, press secretary for the organization. The group is in the process of submitting 1.6 million signatures to qualify for a slot on the presidential ballot in California.
Although the nominating process will be “open,” Americans Elect has instituted some measures to screen out the nomination of candidates that it deems unqualified on a basic level. The organization stipulates, for instance, that the proposed candidates meet constitutional requirements and exhibit a standing similar to that of recent Presidential candidates (e.g., serving in public office, heading up a major military command, or managing a company). But the community has the prerogative to “waive” the second criterion if sufficient members vote for that change, Ackerman points out.
Members of the online community also have an opportunity to share views with other members. The community's Website enables members to easily connect with like-minded others, based on information gleaned from their profiles.
Americans Elect is actively “soliciting feedback” from its community regarding improvements to its platform, and the organization is continually “refining and updating the site,” says Ackerman. He promises that the site will offer “considerably more interactive” features soon.
As Kahlil Byrd, CEO of Americans Elect, explains, “Our goal is to open up what has been an anticompetitive process to people who are unsatisfied with the choices of the two parties.” To that end, “the questions, the priorities, the nominations, and the rules will all come from the community” of Americans Elect, stresses Ackerman.
Americans Elect has support from a reputable cross-section of Democrats, Republicans, and independents. This kind of initiative should have appeal, not only to the large number of independent voters, who typically feel disenfranchised, but also to Republican and Democratic voters dissaffected with their parties' candidates. The effort could also have significant educational appeal, steeping voters in the political campaign process, and generating greater citizen participation in politics.
One of the key shortcomings of the Presidential political campaign is the limited exposure given by the national media to truly innovative political solutions and politicians. In this light, it would be particularly helpful if Americans Elect afforded users a greater opportunity to explore and contribute to such solutions.
While it’s difficult to predict the impact of the forum afforded by Americans Elect at this point, it appears to offer a valuable outlet and means of expression for countless Americans frustrated by the traditional presidential political process, including the undersigned.
— Michael Mascioni is a market research consultant in digital media.