For the 68 percent of Americans who said in an ABC/Washington Post poll released Wednesday that they had a negative view of government, the possibility of having a presidential candidate free of the currently gridlocked political parties could be just a few clicks away.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit Americans Elect has collected petition signatures – millions of them – in all 50 states to put a “candidate of the people” on the ballot in November 2012. This candidate would be selected through an online draft and nomination process instead of through the traditional Republican and Democratic parties primary and caucus schedule.
“We are creating competition for all these folks who are politically homeless,” said Elliot Ackerman, Americans Elect’s chief operating officer. “A lot of the folks that engage with us are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and those people don’t really have a voice in our political system right now. What we’re doing is really creating an incentive structure so that those individuals will be competed for.”
So far, the group has secured a spot on the ballot in six states, has collected the required number of signatures in four states and has about half the necessary signatures in four other states. Americans Elect spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel said the group would begin the petition process in seven more states within the week.
In California, organizers collected and submitted 1.6 million signatures last week, more than have been collected for any one initiative in the state’s history. California has until Nov. 2 to verify those signatures and grant or deny Americans Elect a third-party spot on the ballot.
Ackerman insisted his group is not a “third party” but a ”second way” to nominate a president. Any registered voter can sign up online to be a delegate. Delegates will then draft candidates and vote for their nominee in May and June.
The eventual nominee can be a member of either party or an independent but must chose a vice presidential running mate who is from a different party. Ackerman said he expected many of the losing GOP presidential candidates to move into the Americans Elect primary process after Republicans chose their nominee.
But Jonathan Ladd, an assistant government professor at Georgetown University, said he was “a bit skeptical” that ”high- quality” candidates would chose to buck their party and run under Americans Elect.
“The problem is there are a lot of benefits to being in a party,” Ladd said. “If you run as an independent it will make it harder to run for any office in your party.”
Because the Americans Elect route carries “a lot of cost” and a “pretty low” probability of actually winning, the group will probably have a hard time getting qualified candidates to accept their nomination, Ladd said.
“High-quality candidates who are ambitious see the incentive to channel their ambitions through the party structure,” he said.
Perhaps for this reason, the Republican Party, at least, is not too worried that an Americans Elect candidate will pose a threat to the eventual Republican nominee.
“After 32 months of unemployment exceeding 8 percent, Americans are tired of President Obama’s failed policies, and we welcome anyone interested in making Obama a one-term president,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.
The Democratic National Committee did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Ackerman said “a number” of potential candidates had “expressed interest” in the Americans Elect online nominating convention, but he would not disclose who or how many.
Ackerman stressed that there was plenty of time for an additional candidate to jump into the race, because with an online primary, potential candidates would not have to do time-intensive early-primary state campaigning.
This online nominating convention gives each state an equal say in choosing the eventual nominee.
Votes cast in a state such as California, which comes so late in the Republican primary schedule that the nominee is often already chosen, will carry the same weight as votes cast in Iowa, which as the first-in-the-nation state sets the momentum for the entire primary season.
“[Americans Elect] creates this open nominating process, so it takes the power away from the parties and gives it back to the people so the people are driving the process,” Wachtel said.
The way the calendar is currently set up, presidential hopefuls have to edge toward the extremes of their party in order to capture these vital early states, where voters tend to be more socially conservative.
“In the primaries you have to go far to the right or far to the left and tickets are having a hard time tacking back to the center,” he said. “Americans Elect allows a ticket to run authentically without having to go to extremes in the primary.”