With Blank Petition and Blank Petitioners, Americans Elect Raises Concern in Fresno
Americans Elect is a 501(c)4 corporation with aims to get on the 2012 ballot in all 50 states and to arrange the election of its own candidates for President and Vice President of the United States. Student journalists at Fresno City College’s RamPage newspaper report that the appearance of Americans Elect petition circulators on campus met with considerable confusion and resistance:
Many are asking questions about the motives of the American Elect petitioners and whether they were the FCC campus under false pretenses.
According to information on the Americans Elect website, the organization’s goal is “for our democracy to be more open and our government to be more accountable to the people.” However, people on campus have raised questions about how “open” and “accountable” Americans Elect is itself.
Michael Guerra, Vice-President of Administrative Services, said, “We require a facilities request to be filed and approved before anyone can set up a table, tent, or other structure in a campus common area.” But Jackson Leroy and Chris Gomez, the American’s Elect petitioners that came to the FCC campus, did not seek or obtain proper permits.
Guerra also said, “We do ask groups or individuals that have not obtained facilities request approval for tables or booths to remove them.” But the Americans Elect personnel were able to set up their tent and table and openly solicited signatures from students and staff of the college. They were not removed or accosted by any FCC officials.
Under their red tent, the petitioners asked students and faculty to sign to support Americans Elect’s cause, but were either unable or unwilling to explain what that was. Their explanation ranged from that they were trying to put a third party candidate on the ballot to that they were trying to support online voting. They would not answer additional questions.
Gerry Bill, retired professor of history, said the petitioners should not be on the FCC campus. Bill said they “were gathering signatures under false pretenses. They were telling people that the petition was to put a measure for electronic voting on the California ballot. In reality, the petition made no mention of electronic voting.”
The petitioners had refused to answer questions from Rampage reporters about their actions. Gerry Bill said that the American Elect organization is known statewide for dubious activities.
What would lead Fresno City College students, staff and faculty to raise questions about Americans Elect’s petition? How about Americans Elect’s petition? A verified, trusted source in California has forwarded blank copies of the Americans Elect petition to me. Click on the thumbnail image below for a higher-resolution pdf scan:
The petition fills a long 8.5×14 sheet of paper with small type, but it contains only one phrase with any description of Americans Elect or what the petition is for: “Americans Elect petition to participate in the primary election.” This is a phrase required by California Elections Code Section 5100c, and it does not accomplish much in explanation. It’s understandable that if petition gatherers don’t answer questions to put Americans Elect in proper context, citizens might hesitate before signing, because they don’t know what it means for them to sign.
According to California Elections Code Section 5100c, signing that petition means quite a lot:
5100. A party is qualified to participate in any primary election…
(c) If on or before the 135th day before any primary election, there is filed with the Secretary of State a petition signed by voters, equal in number to at least 10 percent of the entire vote of the state at the last preceding gubernatorial election, declaring that they represent a proposed party, the name of which shall be stated in the petition, which proposed party those voters desire to have participate in that primary election. This petition shall be circulated, signed, verified and the signatures of the voters on it shall be certified to and transmitted to the Secretary of State by the county elections officials substantially as provided for initiative petitions. Each page of the petition shall bear a caption in 18-point boldface type, which caption shall be the name of the proposed party followed by the words “Petition to participate in the primary election.”
The first piece of information added with the context of Section 5100c is that Americans Elect is, despite its protests to the contrary, attempting to qualify as a political party in the state of California — information corroborated by the California Secretary of State’s public listing of Americans Elect.
The second piece of information we learn from Section 5100c is that people who sign to the Americans Elect petition are “declaring that they represent a proposed party,” namely Americans Elect. And yet, in a curious twist, the petition does not inform signers that they are declaring themselves to be representatives of Americans Elect or affiliated with Americans Elect in any way. How can Americans Elect turn in these petitions in which signers declare they represent Americans Elect when there is no place on the petition in which signers affirm or are told of their status as representatives of Americans Elect? It doesn’t make sense.
Two examples I’ve been able to find that directly display qualifying petitions under California Political Code solve this problem by containing a declaration at the top of the petition. The historical qualifying petition of the Independent Progressive Party place this text underneath the “petition to participate in the primary election” title:
We the undersigned, registered, qualified electors of the State of California, residents of the County (or City and County) of ______ of California, present to the Secretary of State of the State of California this Petition and declare that we represent a political party, the name of which is INDEPENDENT PROGRESSIVE PARTY OF CALIFORNIA…
And the subheader of the qualifying petition of America’s Third Party for the 2012 presidential election reads:
We, the undersigned, registered, qualified voters of California, residents of ____________________________ County declare that we represent America’s Third Party.
The Americans Elect petition lacks this declaration.
I am not seeking to make a legal point regarding the omission of this information about petition signers representing Americans Elect. Indeed, in a call to party qualifications specialist Dierdre Avent of the California Secretary of State’s office, Ms. Avent confirmed that Section 5100c governed the Americans Elect petition, but also stressed that the California Secretary of State does not issue legal opinions on the interpretation of Section 5100c. Responsibility for properly interpreting Section 5100c lies with the legal teams for bodies attempting to qualify as political parties, in this case the Senior Counsel of Americans Elect. County officials receiving petitions will make their own findings about the legal sufficiency of the Americans Elect petition.
My point is not legal but practical: it’s hard to see how reasonable people would know they were declaring themselves representatives of Americans Elect when that declaration is missing from the petition. If people knew they were affiliating themselves with Americans Elect rather than just opening the door for Americans Elect to get on the ballot, how many of them would sign that petition? If the declaration of affiliation with Americans Elect were placed at the top of the petition as in other California ballot access petitions, how many people would ask for more information about Americans Elect first? The absence of this high-commitment declaration from its petition places Americans Elect at a strategic advantage in collecting signatures. It is to the credit of the Fresno City College community that a number of its members refused to sign a blank Americans Elect petition or to follow the suggestions of signature gatherers when both were devoid of information.