Recently, a mysterious organization calling itself “Americans Elect” has been making a lot of news. It claims that it wants to reform the electoral system and create a viable third party. I initially reacted with joy at the news – finally, an organization devoted to creating a system in which a third party can run, rather than merely picking someone and watching them fall to the spoiler effect and Duverger’s Law.
However, when I looked more at the organization’s plan, I noticed several worrying aspects:
1. Most importantly, the plan won’t work. Americans Elect’s master plan apparently does not address what is clearly the biggest factor harming third party chances – plurality voting. As long as there’s plurality voting, the spoiler effect and Duverger’s Law will sink that third party’s chances, along with whomever the third party diverts votes from. There are various ways AE could avoid such effects – such as by withdrawing their candidate if he does not get sufficient numbers in the polls, or at least campaigning for runoff voting, but there is no hint of any such interest.
2.The process seems designed to choose a liberal candidate that will divert votes from Obama. One of the key aspects of AE’s plan is that it would use the internet to choose a candidate, without mentioning any option to mail in or call in a vote. Why is this suspicious? Because internet users tend to be younger and more educated, and younger and more educated people tend to be liberal. Older, more conservative people are far less likely to use or trust the internet over the traditional voting process. AE also lists the logos of five media organizations on their front page to advertise where they’ve been covered: the New York Times, MSNBC, PBS, the Daily Beast, and the Colbert Report. All of these are news organizations that the right alleges to have a liberal bias, and many of them are downright detested. If internet voting did not turn off conservatives, this list will.
3.They have mysteriously come up with a lot of funding out of nowhere, and are keeping their donors secret. According to an article in Politico, the organization has raised an impressive $22 million. How does a supposedly grassroots organization with no well-known name affiliated with it raise so much money? We don’t know, and they’re not saying. They are probably required to disclose donors due to campaign finance laws, but refuses to do so because they supposedly fear retribution, and think it should be up to the individual donors. However, those donors have kept quiet too. Apparently plenty of people want to give money to this organization, but no one wants any credit for it. Seems odd.
4. The organization has a few people associated with Democrats, but some very shady Republicans as well. That’s right, a large part of the leadership of this supposedly liberal media-loving, democracy enhancing organization are Republicans who have been accused of political trickery in the past. The CEO, Khalil Byrd, a former Deval Patrick campaign manager, and rules committee co-chair Chris Arterton, clearly have some prior ties to the Democratic party. However, other players who seem more involved have strong and suspicious Republican ties: Michael and Kellen Arno, whom the website claims are an advisor relating to ballot access and the national field director, respectively, are the president and vice president of Arno Political Consultants, a Republican political group accused of many past tricks to get people to vote Republican and create illusory support for Republican issues. Their role is very worrying and adds an additional layer of suspicion to the undisclosed donors (who could conceivably be funneling payments to the Arno consulting firm through their jobs with AE). Others having close associations with Republican political strategists include former Mitt Romney legal counsel Daniel Winslow (general counsel) and former GOP central committee nominee Tom Sansonetti (co-chair of rules committee). So while Byrd and Arterton seem to give the organization bipartisanship, I’m very concerned about the role GOP consultants (particularly the Arnos) are playing.
I’m not saying I have any knowledge or that there’s any smoking-gun evidence that AE is in fact a front, only that they look a lot like one. I want AE to be real, and they could be, like many other third party attempts in the past, a bunch of idealists that are sloppy in their execution. However, the difference between this group and past third parties is that instead of being driven to prominence by well known politically minded individuals like Teddy Roosevelt, Ross Perot, or Ralph Nader, this third party owes its prominence to mysterious funding and tactically-minded individuals who came out of nowhere and often have prior loyalties to the Republican party. Now it could be that the secretive Republican members are just dissatisfied with the moronic extremists in their own party and would rather have a moderate bring the country together. But regardless of their motivations, the effect will be the same – a Republican will be much more likely to win if AE succeeds in getting young, educated internet users who watch the MSNBC and the Colbert Report to choose their candidate instead of Obama. If they truly want a viable third party candidate, they will fix the plurality voting problem first. Until then, I have a right to be suspicious.