Americans Elect seeks ballot status in Oregon; it's all so much nonsense

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

For the last year, there's been increasing talk about a project - called Americans Elect - that will seek to nominate a third major candidate for the presidency. More specifically, they hope to nominate a ticket that includes a presidential candidate from one party and a veep from the other.

Beyond that, Americans Elect has no platform. They stand for nothing, other than the obvious notion that politics in DC is broken and their solution is to wave their arms wildly at both parties. But, with huge funding from prominent and not-so-prominent billionaires (mostly hedge-fund managers), they appear to have the organizational muscle to make it happen.

They're already on the ballot in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Michigan and Nevada. They've turned in 1.6 million signatures in California. And now they're starting to collect signatures in Oregon. From Jeff Mapes at the O:

Canvassers for the group popped up in Eugene last week and will start collecting signatures in Portland this week, said Ileana Wachtel, a spokeswoman for the group.

"This is the right time for a three-horse race" in next fall's presidential election, said Wachtel, arguing that voters are looking for a centrist, bipartisan alternative to the Democratic and Republican candidates. Her group will need to collect 21,804 valid signatures to make the Oregon ballot.

I share their view that our politics are broken. But I disagree that the problem is that elected officials are acting as tough advocates for their views (i.e. "partisanship").

Rather, I believe that our politics are broken because we've allowed corporate money to swamp the voice of the people; because we insist on anti-democratic traditions (like the filibuster) that make our institutions unresponsive to election outcomes; and because on too many issues (largely financial ones) there's a DC/NY "consensus" from the self-appointed smart set that ignores what's best for the middle class and Main Street.

Unlike a lot of my Democratic friends, I happen to like third parties. In general, I think democracy works best when the people have lots of good and meaningful choices.

But Americans Elect doesn't look to be offering a good and meaningful choice. They're offering up a bumper sticker - and suggesting that we can fix what's wrong with America by simply electing someone (almost certainly a charismatic celebrity) who has disdain for strongly-held opinions (on both sides).

They seem to suggest that we don't have hard choices to make; that the choices are easy, and it's just meaningless partisanship (blue/red tribalism) getting in the way. As if the solution is, like Rodney King, to cry plaintively "Can't we all get along?" and then everything would be magically fixed by splitting the difference between the two parties.

I, for one, will not be signing their petition. I will, however, be watching them very closely.

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    It's not that I dislike third parties. It's just that, in a winner take all system, third parties are pretty much the best way to guarantee that the worst candidate (from the 3rd partier's point of view) is the one who will get elected.

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      It isn't that simple. Pollster Sam Lubell, who later became a political scientist, showed with data that Harry Truman was helped, not hurt, when Henry Wallace ran for president in 1948 on the Progressive Party line. Lubell learned that 2 million conservative, mostly Catholic Democrats, had voted Republican in 1944 because they were so anti-communist, and the Communist Party supported Roosevelt in 1944. But in 1948, with Communists attacking Truman and supporting Wallace, they returned to the Democratic fold.

      Also, a new book called "Predictably Irrational" also has scientific experiments showing that when someone must choose between 3 alternatives, and two are similar but one of the similar alternatives is clearly inferior to the other, the chooser is less likely to choose that third option that isn't similar. So in 2000, a voter seeing a choice between Bush, Gore, and Nader might be moved to support Gore instead of Bush (Nader and Gore being perceived as similar on issue stands but Gore being perceived as superior to Nader because he had a chance to win).

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      I actually agree with TA on this one (See, it can happen!). I have seen it work, although progress can be slow. However, most people do not seem willing to spend a great deal of time on changing from within. When they don't get quick gratification, they go away and sulk about how no one is listening to them.

      This Americans Elect project seems like some of those types, although with more money than the usual righteously indignant types. They can be a spoiler, but they are unlikely to be a reformer.

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      T.A. I agree that anyone who thinks that they can change our political system at the top is engaged in a fool's errand.

      The people behind Americans Elect could build real and lasting power if they would put their money into existing political parties such as the Independent Party that are building at the grassroots, promoting centrist reform, creating tools that encourage greater collaboration between political parties, and encouraging candidates of all parties to reach out to our members.

      Of course, somehow I suspect that you wouldn't like that much either. :^)

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    My biggest concern is that this group could pull a Nader and siphon off just enough votes in key states to elect Rick Perry.

    The people behind this are really not paying attention. If anything Obama has been filling the role that they seek and it hasn't been working. When you listen to the leaders of this group talk policy it is hard to see it as very different than Obama except that it is a touch more corporatist.

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    Nice piece Kari. Full agreement. This is more Third Way-type nonsense that doesn't reflect political reality. And people KNOW I'm down for alternative voting.

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    Micah Sifry has been a long time enthusiast of third party efforts - but is highly skeptical of this one.

    Here's a piece he wrote over the summer on Americans Elect; his bottom line conclusion: "I think Americans Elect could actually be a devilishly brilliant leveraged buyout of our broken electoral system that could have the perverse effect of reinforcing the same brain-dead politics we already have."

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    @T.a.: All Nader was trying to do in 2000 was get 5% of the vote, nationally (he got only 2.7%), in order to secure federal funding for future Green Party candidates.

    It does make sense to run to try to reach that level to help build a party.

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      Stephen, the Greens were trying to use Nader's name recognition to get 5% of the vote, but he was never very interested in party-building for the Greens. See e.g. this piece by a Nader supporter about Nader's failure to try to convert his voters into Green partisans after the election:

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    I suspect that many people, including unhappy liberals like me, dream about a "NONE OF THE ABOVE" voting option in the next election. Pie-in-the-sky third party proposals like this offer that option, regardless of their merit or lack of merit. I may ultimately cast a reluctant and unenthusiastic vote for President Obama, but it is nice to dream of other options between now and November of 2012.

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      Any "third party" vote is effectively an active abstention (as distinct from the passive no vote option).

      Micah Sifry, who was mentioned by Dan P. above, used to advocate for a none-of-the-above line. In past years I used to wonder about trying to organize a "ruined ballot" movement as an alternative, something that would better express engaged rejection of the practical choices offered by our undemocratic electoral system. But even that would take money.

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    ..."casino class"...well, susan hagmeier says it best, as usual!!!

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    To the extent that this makes parties reconsider their nominating processes (any party could do the same thing, removing the constraint that there be one D and one R) this isn't a bad thing. Are the primaries as open as they should be?

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