Moderates Seek Alternative to Partisan Ticket

November 29, 2011 Updated: September 29, 2015

A new nonpartisan presidential nomination website has launched, giving Americans a new way to select their nominee. The new initiative is called Americans Elect, which hopes—through online voting and a $22 million bankroll—to add a two-party candidate ticket for the 2012 presidential election.

“What we’re doing at Americans Elect is we’re removing the barrier to entry for a presidential nomination,” stated Chief Operations Officer Elliot Ackerman, in a CNN interview. “So, Americans Elect is going to be putting forward the first-ever nonpartisan ticket. It’s going to be on the ballot in all 50 states in November of 2012.”

With the message of putting “country before party,” Americans Elect promotes an Internet-based selection process for nominating presidential candidates. Here’s how it works:

Those registered voters who sign on with the website are called delegates. The group identifies topics important to voters, such as energy, environment, education, foreign policy, etc. A delegate is then asked to personally rank the importance of such issues, and is presented with further questioning to define a voter’s views. Americans Elect presents the delegate with comparable candidates who more closely match the answers.

In addition, delegates may submit questions to ask potential candidates. The process culminates in June with the first online convention voting on the presidential ticket to be placed on state ballots.

“This is a re-imagining and a completely new way for someone to run a primary process,” said the group’s CEO Kahlil Byrd, at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum earlier this month.

“Technology, and the real barrier to entry—ballot access—which Americans Elect is taking care of forcefully across the country … once we take those barriers out, it allows for great men and women to actually consider and step forward and think about running for president in this cycle.”

Social Welfare Group?

Americans Elect has received criticism for defining itself as a “social welfare” nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization instead of a political organization, despite its stated purpose of placing presidential candidates on state ballots.

A letter sent to the IRS from political activist Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 proposes that “a political party is not entitled to be treated as a ‘social welfare’ organization under federal tax laws and is required to disclose its donors.”

Wertheimer concludes that “Whatever one thinks about the goals of Americans Elect, the organizations should not be misusing the tax laws or circumventing the campaign finance disclosure laws.” He adds that the organization “should be registered as a section 527 “political organization” under the tax laws, which would require it to disclose its donors.

Eligibility for ballot access varies from state to state. In its bylaws, Americans Elect notes this, stating the organization “may describe its organization in a uniform manner that can be understood by voters while conforming to the laws of each state.”

Elliot Ackerman defended the classification’s result of keeping donors in the shadows. “What we’re doing isn’t particularly popular in the Republican and Democratic parties,” he said in the Washington Post. “These are individuals for whom it complicates things for them to be challenging the status quo.”

Regardless of both the ideals and concerns, one thing comes across: Americans Elect is backed by an experienced board of directors—from wealthy investor Peter Ackerman, to former N.J. Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, to former director of National Intelligence and Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair.

And according to its website, the group has received over 2,100,000 signatures, “over half what’s needed to put the Americans Elect ticket on the ballot nationwide.”

“We can do this debate and this conversation a lot better: that we can have better candidates; that the process can be more connected to the American people; and that people can directly nominate the people who they think are going to be the best,” CEO Byrd concluded. “So is here … it’s real.”