Americans Elect is a 501(c)4 corporation working to arrange the election of its own candidates for President and Vice President of the United States. But according to on-the-ground reports, signature gatherers acting on behalf of Americans Elect may not be telling the whole truth or even the partial truth about the corporation’s campaign plans.
Political blogger Sandi Behrns of The Cassandra Files and the online radio show Leaning Left tweets about a deceptive encounter earlier this month with an Americans Elect signature gatherer in her home state of California:
she told me it was to insure that vote by mail & in-person voting remains available when online voting starts.
If Behrns’ account is accurate, it’s disturbing, because that’s not the purpose of Americans Elect’s signature campaign at all. The primary purpose of its signature drive is to gain a spot on the California ballot for its yet-unnamed 2012 presidential ticket. The secondary purpose of Americans Elect’s signature drive has become apparent with the past week as Americans Elect has put up a ticker on its home page counting the number of signatures it’s collected on its ballot signatures. The signature count is meant to be an indicator of grassroots support for Americans Elect.
As Sandi Behrns’ experience shows, a signature on an Americans Elect petition isn’t necessarily an indication of grassroots support. Behrns is not alone. Paid petitioners’ approach to gathering Americans Elect signatures provoked concern in Fresno in May. An Americans Elect paid signature gatherer quit in April rather than continue under guidelines that he said required him to avoid answering citizens’ questions. In March, Americans Elect signature gatherers at Grossmont College told a student reporter that “we’re not allowed to talk to press,” that “we don’t know what’s going on,” and that “I don’t know what they’re doing – they just gave us a piece of paper…”. If people sign an Americans Elect petition under these circumstances (and petition history shows that some people will just about sign anything), then it’s not clear what those signatures represent other than a means to ballot access for the Americans Elect corporation.
It’s important to note these accounts of faulty communication (to use a charitable term) by Americans Elect for three reasons. First, Americans Elect is depicting the volume of signatures as an indication of grassroots support for its cause when it’s not clear that people have signed the petition for that reason. Second, if Americans Elect takes the integrity of its petition process seriously, it ought to look into what its paid signature gatherers are doing and address these apparent problems. Third, given the audacity of what Americans Elect plans to do — carry out the first-ever online vote to nominate a presidential candidate in American history — its technical capability to accurately communicate its process and to accurately collect measures of citizen intent must rise beyond reproach. In an election, inaccuracy is not acceptable. Unlike traditional primaries that are run by separate boards of election and secretaries of state, Americans Elect wants to run its own election. Given the allegations people are making on the ground now about irregularities in signature gathering, will Americans Elect be ready to carry out a new form of election in competent fashion in just one year’s time?
Americans Elect can address these questions by communicating with the American public more fully and sharing the details of its operations — from the identity of its mystery donors to the extent to which citizens will or will not be allowed to participate in corporate government to the procedures for ensuring a fully democratic election — more transparently. The longer these questions (which I’ve been posing to Americans Elect for some time) remain unanswered, the less likely it is that Americans Elect will be be able to pull off its ambitious plans with legitimacy.