The first thing my brother said when I gave him the Americans Elect t-shirt I picked up at SXSW this year? “The elephant vs donkey boxing design is so cool !” Cool? Asks Americans Elect or, as the t-shirt’s recipient also believes, is the age old fight between elephant and donkey now ridiculous?
Americans Elect is a non-partisan, non-profit organization hoping to put their stamp on politics, by stamping out some of the most overblown rhetoric between red states and blue states, elephants and donkeys. Instead of this pantomime, they are urging you ‘Pick a President, Not a party’ in the first direct nomination process.
Now, it is worth remembering that there is nowhere in the constitution is there a mention of political parties, and certainly no mention of how to organize a two-party system. George Washington was in fact incredibly wary of the divisive power of parties. It was people — or Presidents, specifically — and not parties that were always the foundation of the American political system. With this at least, Americans Elect are right on the money.
So, what does Americans Elect plan to do about it? They are hoping to make history by hosting the first, national, online presidential primary in the U.S., with candidates chosen entirely by Internet users. In other words, AE is attempting to harness the power of the Internet to turn electoral disenchantment into more power and more say; they are hoping to give the two major parties a run for their money.
How it works: Any U.S. voter can act as a delegate to nominate constitutionally eligible candidates through the Americans Elect website. Delegates may also propose and vote on the Platform of Questions — a list of questions that all candidates must answer before the June phase of the primary. And then after the two-phase primary, ending with a convention in June 2012, the resulting ticket will (likely) be listed on the ballot in all fifty states.
When the drafting began on February 1 2012, within a few hours, 360,000 delegates drafted 52 possible candidates including Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Condoleezza Rice, and Buddy Roemer.
As it turns out, however, a “delegate” was just anyone who had registered their email, and so their active participation was by no means guaranteed. As a result, the greatest difficulty currently faced by the movement is converting drafted candidates into accepted ones. So far, the two most popular candidates are Buddy Roemer, Former Governor of Louisiana, and Rocky Anderson, Former Mayor of Salt Lake City. Neither are household names, and just as an aside, when I say “popular”, i’m talking about 2,745 and 1,259 supporters respectively !
Why have AE had so much trouble? There must be hundreds of thousands of people, myself included, tired of the old ways. One explanation is that AE is no traditional third party, rallying around a set of core values; AE is no Ralph Nader.
The whole point, presumably is that they (rightly) stand against artisan dogma, but it seems that they mistook non-partisanship for not standing for anything. And in waiting for the American electorate to step up to the plate and define the issues they are most concerned about, not enough people wanted to play.
Professor Henry Farrell, a political scientist at George Washington University, explains how hard it is to get a third party up and running in the U.S. electoral system, and Americans Elect, with no platform to speak out except anti Donkey vs Elephant, “is a damp squib”.
Americans Elect is a wonderful idea — who doesn’t want an end to all the bickering? — but maybe it is so novel that people just aren’t ready yet. Maybe people like parties. Parties are easier; you can belong to a party that will tell you what you want to hear, and what you should argue about. Belonging to a party means being told how to think and who to vote for, and largely being able to stay out of the internal party squabbles as well as the national debates, sure in the knowledge that your party is looking out for you.
Yes, the current primary system borders on the absurd. It starts with Iowa, a state with less than 1% of the nation’s population, moves on to New Hampshire equally small, and it doesn’t get much more sensible from there. And yes, I don’t think I’m the only one tired of the endless partisan squabbles, and the extreme lines taken as a result. But Americans Elect is sadly not (yet) the big fix its founders had hoped.
The silver lining? A new model of electing a president and organizing the hopelessly broken party system has been introduced, and it’s one of those things we can’t go backwards from. The goal of Americans Elect is better government. A worthy goal indeed. Let’s hope we find a way to get there eventually.
- Americans Elect waiting for big name as they seek to break two-party grip (guardian.co.uk)
- Americans Elect Having Trouble Finding Americans Who Want to Elect (huffingtonpost.com)
- The big fix? (articles.latimes.com)
- Confessions of an Americans Elect delegate (salon.com)