Americans Elect: A Second Opinion

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 16 2012 10:38 AM

Americans Elect: A Second Opinion

Yesterday I published this pre-obituary for Americans Elect. It was late in the pre-obituary cycle, honestly. The smart geeks at Tech President had been shoveling dirt on AE for months. Irregular Times, the only new organization doing real digging on the group, had proved and proved and re-proved that the organization was bending its own rules to avoid collapse.

After this piece went up, I talked to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News -- one of the few people who reports, analyzes, and truly groks the struggles of non-duopoly campaigns. He gave me a note of caution: Wait until Thursday.

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"I wouldn't be surprised if Americans Elect decides to get rid of some of the silly thresholds," he said. Currently, AE's "national primary" requires a candidate to get 1000 delegates from 10 states to even be eligible for the next stage. "That doesn't even honor the one-man-one-vote principle," pointed out Winger -- it's much easier for, say, Californians to rustle up support, than for Wyoming supporters to do so.

What would happen if AE changed the standards? It could lower them enough to spark a "primary" between Buddy Roemer (currently above 6000 total delegates), former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, and some well-meaning academics. The risk, however, would be that current third party candidates like Gary Johnson, newly intrigued by the AE ballot lines, encourage their supporters to buy in. In about half of states, candidates are allowed to appear on multiple ballot lines.

What would happen if AE just falls apart? The party would still appear on the 27-and-counting ballots they've made it onto -- it would violate the rights of people who signed petitions if the party was taken off. In some states, Americans Elect will stay on the ballot for four whole years. The power to choose candidates, this year or in 2014, rests completely with the people listed in the state ballot applications -- AE staffers. They exercise enormous control over who gets the lines. They may be irrelevant, but they're not dead.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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