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Americans Elect begins Delegate Signup with Limits to Political Discourse

Americans Elect, the corporation with a goal of electing its own presidential ticket in 2012, opened up its website yesterday to allow Americans to register as “delegates” who will cast votes in an online nominating election next year.

Earlier this year, Americans Elect insisted that “The Delegates—and the rest of the American people—are the true boss of Americans Elect.” But on the first day in which delegates were invited to register, their participation in political discourse through Americans Elect has been limited in two ways.

Monitor, Delete, Expel

First, the Americans Elect corporation has set “Terms of Use” for delegates at the website. As of today, there is no means for Americans Elect delegates or other Americans to engage in discourse on the Americans Elect website. But when the “Discussions” section does open as scheduled in the fall, the Terms specify that Americans Elect will monitor and delete delegate discourse whenever it feels like it for whatever reason it feels like:

… we may edit, refuse to post or remove any such materials that in our judgment are objectionable or in violation of these Terms of Use, any of our policies, or applicable law. Furthermore, we may impose limits on certain features or restrict your access to part or all of or the Service, without notice or liability, if we believe you are in breach of these Terms of Use or applicable law, or for any other reason.

Further, delegates may lose their delegate status, lose access to the website and become disenfranchised for the Americans Elect election for any reasons that Americans Elect, “in our sole discretion, consider to be unacceptable.”

Americans Elect is certainly within its legal right to restrict discourse on its own website, but that doesn’t mean deletion of delegate discourse would be wise. Americans Elect asserts that failure of “civil dialogue” and a revitalization of democracy are significant reasons for organizing as a private corporate campaign structure. But it is a perverse definition of “civil dialogue” for discussion to contain only the ideas which Americans Elect finds unobjectionable, and it is undemocratic for a private corporate to assert the right to revoke delegate status from anyone it feels like for any reason, especially when it asserts elsewhere that every registered voter may be a delegate and complains about other parties rigging the election.

Restricting the Scope of Discussion

Americans Elect True Colors Process, asking you to rank relative importance of a limited set of issues: Economy, Education, Energy, Foreign Policy, Health Care, Immigration, Social IssuesA more subtle way in which Americans Elect has restricted delegates’ participation in political discourse has been the limitation of the domain of discussion. The Americans Elect process for candidate selection begins today through a “True Colors” process in which delegates nominally choose the issues that matter to them. But as you can see from the screen capture of the American Elect “True Color” wheel to your right, the set of issues is restricted to seven domains: Economy, Education, Energy, Foreign Policy, Health Care, Immigration, and Social Issues. Significant areas of policy concern — to such as democratic process, civil liberties and campaign finance — do not fit within these seven areas.

To its credit, Americans Elect continues its “True Color” process by asking delegates a series of questions (as of today 64 of them) ostensibly related to these topics. But the distribution of these questions is uneven, further concentrating the focus on issues. I’ve gone through full delegate registration and “True Color” questioning this morning, noting and classifying the subject of these questions along the way. Below is the frequency distribution of subject matter in the questions, first by broad Americans Elect “True Color” category and then by more detailed subject:

Number of Questions Americans Elect Asks by “True Color” category:

Economy: 16
Foreign Policy: 10
Health Care: 9
Social Issues: 8
Energy: 8
Immigration: 7
Education: 6

The “social issues” category is inflated by Americans Elect’s treatment of it as a residual category into which it has stuffed questions that don’t fit elsewhere. Within the “social issues” category are 2 general questions about the performance of the current Congress and 1 general question about the direction of the country. Taking those questions out of the mix, Americans Elect has started off its “True Color” process with actual “social issues” prioritized the least, characterized by just 5 questions.

Number of Questions Americans Elect Asks by more detailed Subject Matter:

appropriateness of government vs. private sector policy: 12
spending: 5
taxes: 4
military: 4
illegal immigrants: 4
interventionism vs. isolationism: 4
deficit: 3
state of the economy: 3
fossil fuels: 3
renewable energy: 3
residency status of immigrants: 3
imports: 2
quality of education: 2
environment: 2
international cooperation: 2
terrorism: 2
insurance rules: 2
quality of health care: 2
congressional behavior: 2
price of energy: 1
regulation of business: 1
international cooperation: 1
unemployment: 1
school vouchers: 1
curriculum: 1
teacher tenure: 1
teacher merit pay: 1
carbon emissions: 1
nuclear energy: 1
torture: 1
Arab social movements: 1
Israeli-Palestinian conflict: 1
Iran: 1
drugs: 1
cost of health care: 1
value of immigrants to society: 1
same-sex marriage: 1
gun control: 1
creationism in school: 1
abortion: 1
direction of the country: 1
death penalty: 1

The count in this second list adds up to more than 64 questions, since some questions concern more than one subject. As you can see from this list, economic concerns (particularly regarding taxes, spending, and privatization) dominate, with energy policy and immigration also being strong concerns.

And then there is a list of subject matters in Americans Elect about which Americans Elect asks no questions at all.

Number of Questions Americans Elect Asks by more detailed Subject Matter:

agriculture: 0
banking regulation: 0
birthright citizenship: 0
campaign finance: 0
child abuse: 0
corporate taxes: 0
corruption: 0
courts and judges: 0
disability: 0
domestic violence: 0
electoral college: 0
endangered species: 0
ethics standards: 0
family and medical leave: 0
food safety: 0
free speech: 0
habeas corpus: 0
indefinite detention: 0
insider trading: 0
intellectual property: 0
intelligence services: 0
interest rates: 0
investment: 0
lobbyists: 0
mining: 0
nuclear weapons: 0
real estate and housing: 0
school prayer: 0
science: 0
search warrants: 0
separation of powers: 0
sex education: 0
shareholder rights: 0
social security: 0
subsidies: 0
superfund sites: 0
surveillance: 0
sweatshops: 0
transparency: 0
transportation: 0
unions: 0
veterans: 0
wages: 0
water quality: 0

These policy subjects far outnumber the subjects covered by Americans Elect’s “True Color” questions, but they don’t stand a chance of influencing candidate selection because they have been excluded from the domain of policy discourse by Americans Elect. The nature of the included and excluded questions is not trivial, since it is based on answers to these questions that Americans Elect will identify a “vital center” that qualifying candidates must straddle. By stacking the deck of initial questions, Americans Elect weights its process toward the identification of candidates dwelling on certain issues and the exclusion of candidates who are concerned with other issues outside the “True Color” wheel. While the Americans Elect process may be nominally democratic, the corporation has carefully set bounds assuring that at the end it will get the discussion and the outcome that it wants.

5 thoughts on “Americans Elect begins Delegate Signup with Limits to Political Discourse”

  1. Peregrin Wood says:

    Merely by categorizing an issue as “energy” rather than “environment”, Americans Elect is showing where it stands – on the right wing, corporate side of the issue. Ick. No play for me, thanks.

    1. Matt Lowe says:

      Yeah, being forced to choose between “more energy” vs. “more environment” is more like how a conservative / republican sees things as opposed to a liberal / democrat.

      For example, instead of building solar panels out in the desert and destroying the habitats of sand turtles, utilities can choose to build solar panels on the tops of big box retail stores like Home Depot and on the parking lots of shopping centers, office parks, and public school playgrounds.

      Besides, IMO most liberals believe that investments in new sources of energy (specifically clean energy) actually HELP the environment instead of hurt it (a.k.a. global warming). So, it’s stuff like this that seems to suggest a conservative bias.

  2. Robert Nussman says:

    The number 1 problem i9s jobs or lack thereof !

  3. Sam Hain says:

    I want to register at your site and looked until my eyes were bleeding AND you dont really have any contact information either

    1. Jim Cook says:

      1. Unlike Americans Elect, you don’t have to register with Irregular Times to participate.
      2. We have a comments section, linked to from every post.
      3. We have a guestbook, linked to from our home page and every blog post.
      4. On the right-hand side of our home page and every blog post, we have a “Write to us” section that includes our e-mail address,

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