2011-12-22 "California recognizes Americans Elect" by Lois Kazakoff
Californians will have another choice for president now that the state has recognized Americans Elect as a political party. While the organization will occupy a third-party slot on the 2012 ballots, it says it is not a party - it is a nonprofit online caucus that espouses no particular ideology and claims no particular mandate. Its organizers describe it as a process to elect a centrist leader to make government work for Americans again.
Maybe. It is certainly a symptom of our dysfunctional political system, but no solution.
Just like Occupy and the Tea Party, Americans Elect is trying to channel Americans' concerns about jobs into political action. But there the similarities end: Occupy is a credible, if not particularly effective, grassroots social movement. The Tea Party has rallied its followers around a clearly articulated list of demands, profoundly affecting local and national politics.
Americans Elect erects no tents. There are no tricornered hats. Americans Elect is trying to break the lock the Democratic and Republican parties have on the electoral system by focusing purely on voting. That's not a movement, but those trying to bring about change might say it is a good idea.
Darry Sragow, a longtime Democratic consultant who is serving as Americans Elect's political adviser, points out that Californians have made three attempts to break the lock - voting for term limits, redistricting and most recently, a top-two primary - yet are even more frustrated with Sacramento.
They are not alone. Fewer than half of Americans have favorable opinions of the major parties, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll released in November, and 61 percent favor the idea of an independent candidate. Among decline-to-state voters (who now make up 20 percent of California's electorate), 73 percent favor having a third-party choice.
Kellen Arno, Americans Elect's national field director, has won a spot on the ballot in 13 states and is confident he will have all 50 states by June. But he says the barriers to getting there are significant: 50 different sets of rules (California required gathering a million signatures, while Florida merely required paperwork). "Our process is a way to break down those barriers," he said.
Americans Elect is undeniably seductive: It responds to the status quo's failure to address Americans' fears about jobs, housing and a secure future. It offers a voice for Occupy and other movements on a website where candidates are ranked by "support clicks." Who could resist the egalitarian appeal of a political organization that invites any registered voter to be a delegate? For those reasons, I hope Americans Elect has influence.
But as long as Americans Elect declines to reveal its funders, (they fear retribution from the parties), it can't be a solution to our political woes.