NewOrleans Watching Steve Colbert on TV at the gym, I saw a complementary rerun interview with the head spokesperson for Americans Elect (www.americanselect.org). He described their petition effort to establish a 50-state ballot place for a slate of candidates in the 2012 Presidential election. His rap was that this internet facilitated process would be a new step for democracy, enabling registered voters to be involved in a direct nomination process for some candidate to be on the ballot next November. He touted their petition effort around the country that was qualifying these potential candidates now in all the necessary jurisdictions. Colbert was funny, as usual, but the interview was so puffy that it was hard to tell what was really afoot other than Americans Elect was not happy with the political parties or their likely candidates. So what was up here?
Going on their website this morning, the first impression is that the site is beautiful, clear and easy to navigate. All of which smoothly slides you into registering as a “delegate” in their process, whatever that might be. The number of current ballot access signatures looms over it all with the number 1.7 million, seeking to legitimize the whole operation. There was a “click” sequence in the “about” which gave their basic rap for their operation. Hmmm. All good, but then I couldn’t find anything anywhere that really explained the petitioning operation or what was afoot. I liked their rap about money, which was basically they were going to repay all of their frontend donors once their contributions built up so that no donor would have contributed more than $10K to the enterprise, which seemed both creative and smart, especially since I’m now obsessed with self-sufficiency. On the other hand, I couldn’t get a grip on who their donors where now to understand who was really behind all of this and what was up, which made me suspicious. For a website that seemed so clear, why was Americans Elect so opaque, rather than being transparent?
Finally, the survey tool that would supposedly “match” my interests to these potential, but currently unknown, candidates was disturbing. Despite all of the high tech advice and help they tout on the website, if you thought better of an answer you had chosen, you could not “erase” and change it. The questions on the survey clearly herded the taker into narrow chutes. Alternative energy led you into a box canyon for example forcing you to choose more expensive utility costs, if you favored any green alternatives, and any green choices were only solar and wind. Democracy may be a messy give-and-take, but technocracy seems little more than a no mess autocracy when entered through a survey match. Incidentally, it seemed clear that though Americans Elect is anti-party, they are pretty insistent that the “slate” that will be nominated will include one Democrat and one Republican, which seems pretty “partied” to me.
Looking around to understand the petitioning operation, it turns out they have contracted with ProVote, which admittedly is a big operation, but also a sketchy one know for its efforts on the conservative side. Furthermore, their staff recruitment material clearly stated that they were hiring people who would be paid “by the signature” and even stating that the pay would be $1.25 per signature, which might be fine and dandy for some efforts, but has actually been illegal in a significant number of states around the country for some years now! (ACORN in our efforts over the last years when I was Chief Organizer had a clear policy abandoning such methods of payments, though I have read that the problems in Nevada after I had left that were recently adjudicated focused on rogue efforts in Vegas that involved something that might be construed as financial incentives.) All of which could both lead to ballot disqualifications and endless controversy.
More research on the internet, and given that this is an internet thing it seems only fair that what lives by the internet should die by the internet as well, turned up some notions of their investors, many of whom were linked to efforts to run shadow party spoiler efforts in the past with the Greens and with Ralph Nadar in behalf of Republican candidates and causes. Hardly seems like they are wearing the “good government” coat they were trying to show off on the public runway.
At the bottom line despite the obvious intentions of Americans Elect to create an interesting, but undoubtedly, spoiler effort most likely targeting Obama in the main, the real problem is not only their sketchy petitioning operation, lack of transparency, bait-and-switch surveying and other problems, but their autocratic ideology about democracy and the role of people, especially in political organizations like parties, in shaping the process. They reject direct election campaigns and direct party primaries conducted state by state in the throes of the candidate selection process run by the existing dominant and wannabe parties and offer instead virtually nothing other than a survey. I’m not sure what this is about, but it’s not about democracy even in the failed way it operates now in America.