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Americans Elect Field Director Fibs about Candidate Censoring Committee on Public Radio

A tip of the pen to Scott Moore of Our Oregon for bringing an Oregon Public Broadcasting radio program this past week to my attention. OPB’s Dave Miller interviewed Kellen Arno, Vice President of the for-profit ballot-signature corporation Arno Political Associates and National Field Director of Americans Elect, a 501c4 corporation with the aim of nominating its own candidate for President in 2012.

In that interview, Dave Miller asked some good questions about Americans Elect’s Candidate Certification Committee:

Kellen Arno, National Field Director: This is one of the innovative things of Americans Elect, is what we’re trying to do is to build an incentive structure for compromise and bipartisan cooperation. So the only rule when it comes to their selection of their running mate, is they need to choose a member or somebody from an opposite party. So if a Republican were to win the nomination, he or she would have to choose a Democrat or an Independent, and a Democrat vice versa.

Dave Miller: So a Republican couldn’t choose someone from the Conservative Party or the Tea Party if the Tea Party, in some places, is an actual political party?

Arno: I don’t know that it is an actual political party anywhere anyway. If it is, what we would effectively do is there is an independent Candidate Certification Committee, the members of which are voted on and selected by the delegate base themselves. They would look back two years, looking for political ideology, and that the real point is to find somebody who speaks in a different voice, who reaches a bit across the political space and fosters more of a bipartisan approach to the problems we face today.

All right, let’s stop there. Kellen Arno is telling us three things:

1. The Americans Elect Candidate Certification Committee will take it upon itself to review and approve or deny a candidate’s choice of running mate on the basis of political ideology.

2. Members of the Americans Elect Candidate Certification Committee will be selected by and voted into the committee by the delegate base.

3. The Americans Elect Candidate Certification Committee is independent.

Read the latest version of the Americans Elect bylaws for yourself and you’ll see that Kellen Arno isn’t telling the truth:

Section 5.4. Candidate Certification Committee.

5.4.1. Purpose. The Candidate Certification Committee shall be responsible for certifying that candidates and draftees for the offices and president and vice president meet all constitutional eligibility, as well as to develop and apply criteria of demonstrated achievements based on qualifications of past presidents and vice presidents to ensure that only persons capable of performing the duties of president and vice president are eligible for voting by the registered Delegates, subject only to a two thirds vote to the contrary by all registered Delegates in accordance with Section 5.6. All qualified persons, regardless of their membership in any political party, shall be eligible to seek or accept the nomination of Americans Elect.

5.4.2. Membership. Members of the Candidate Certification Committee shall be appointed by the Board from among the Delegates with due regard for the principles of non-partisan balance among the membership. Members shall serve at the pleasure of the Board and may be removed without cause.

Is the Candidate Certification Committee membership selected by and voted on by the delegate base? No. It “shall be appointed by the Board” and “shall serve at the pleasure of the Board and may be removed without cause.” That bit about selecting from “among the Delegates” is a bit of a circular reasoning as well, since the bylaws declares that the leadership of Americans Elect shall establish themselves as delegates — so really, the CCC members could be just about any American the Board decides upon.

Is the Candidate Certification Committee independent? No. Members are not only appointed by the Board of Directors of the Americans Elect Corporation, but serve “at the pleasure of the board and may be removed without cause.” That’s not independent by any definition.

Is the Candidate Certification Committee supposed to be making qualification decisions on the basis of ideology? Well, AE Field Director Kellen Arno says it will be, but the bylaws don’t declare that to be a basis for qualification. The basis for qualification is that a person is “capable of performing the duties of president and vice president.”

These are three places in which Kellen Arno’s account of Americans Elect is, to be gentle, at variance with the truth.

Let’s continue with the interview, right from where we left off:

Miller: You talk about this Candidate Committee; we’ve got a question on our website by Scott Moore, who says “my question is, what happens when a majority of Americans Elect delegates want to nominate someone who is unacceptable to the Board of Directors and the Candidate Committee? How much power does the Board of Directors and the Candidate Committee have to actually decide who is eligible to be a nominee in the first place?”

Arno: Well, at the end of the day I think what they’ve had to do is obviously this is the tool that we hope millions of Americans will come to use and I think you have to allow for some level of bylaws and some level of governance. But really this is a process that’s open to the delegates. So the Board of Directors and certainly the Board of Advisors and anyone that’s involved in Americans Elect, there is no preferred candidate or preferred ideology in effect. As you mentioned, there’s people from all kinds of backgrounds and all different ideologies. So there isn’t one type of candidate we have in mind, nor is there one that anybody with Americans Elect really want to avoid. So that’s there as a precaution, but ultimately the delegate base is going to choose who this candidate will be.

Miller: I’m wondering exactly how you do that, though. I mean, say, if Stephen Colbert has either nominated himself, which is not hard to imagine, or has decided to, nominates himself, would he be acceptable by the Board of Directors, by the Candidate Committee? One of the bylaws is that you have to demonstrate achievements based on qualifications of past presidents and vice presidents. Is he viable?

Arno: So there’s two methods of being a viable candidate in terms of the Candidate Certification Committee. The first is if you have served in a capacity that is consistent with previous presidents, such as a governor or senator; then the Candidate Certification Committee would concede that you are professionally qualified. In the event that you have not, all that you have to do is, let’s say, whether it’s Stephen Colbert, whether it’s an attorney that you, Dave, might be friends with or know or think might make a great president…

Miller: Or a professional wrestler.

Arno: Uh, sure. I mean, uh, what you would need to do is to, to show support from, uh, a big enough group of the delegate base that that person is someone that they’d like to see. Um, I believe right now in the rules it’s written that they would need to show, um, would need to get effectively, you know, an online signature being a show of support from, I think it’s a hundred thousand. A hundred thousand people.

Fact check: there is no place in the Americans Elect corporate bylaws describing any process for delegate approval of a presidential candidate by gathering the signatures of a hundred thousand people, or any other set number of people.

Unless there are some additional super-secret bylaws Americans Elect has re-written, and re-adopted, and chosen not to share with the American people, Americans Elect Field Director Kellen Arno is once again at variance with the truth.

Continuing right on from that very spot:

Uh, and then any time the Candidate Certification Committee stepped in — and again, this is a committee comprised of people the delegates would nominate and the delegates would vote on — but if the Committee were to step in and say someone is not eligible, it can be overturned by a 2/3 vote of the delegate base.

Miller: I just want to understand: that’s a 2/3 vote of the entire delegate base, which is a very high bar if you assume that many people wouldn’t necessarily take part in an online vote.

Arno: Well, and, there’s two types of delegate base, too. Um, there’s certainly people who can come and join and you can see the website and participate. And then there’s people who can actually move on to participate in the delegate functions, and those are the people who need to be, uh, they’ll have their voter registration status verified. So that will be the base that’s polled. And clearly that base will be the more active base because they’ve taken the step forward. They’ve basically self-selected themselves as the ones who want to participate.

Again comes the claim that the Candidate Certification Committee membership is chosen by the delegates, when it clearly is not. Kellen Arno didn’t just slip up in his choice of words. He’s repeatedly saying things that just aren’t so.

Dave Miller’s point about a 2/3 vote of all delegates is quite important. The bylaws specify that delegates are all Americans Elect members who have their voter registration verified (Kellen Arno is correct in that respect). In order to overturn a decision of the Board of Directors or its Candidate Certification Committee, 2/3 of all of those people would have to a) decide to show up to vote on a procedural question and then b) vote to overturn Americans Elect’s corporate decision.

You’ll notice that Kellen Arno didn’t actually disagree with Dave Miller that this is the case; he just tried to say that it really wouldn’t be such a big deal, because delegates would be motivated to participate, having had their registration verified and all.

It turns out we have data to assess the participation rate of people who have their voter registration verified: election turnout data from 1960-2010 gathered by George Mason University’s United States Election Project. The graph below shows the percent of people who register to vote and have their registration verified who then actually turn up to vote on Election Day:

American Voter Turnout in Federal Elections, source U.S. Election Project

Not once, not once in any national election from 1960 to the present, have two-thirds of verified registered voters ever turned out to actually vote.

In order to overturn the corporate edicts of the Candidate Certification Committee or any other Board-appointed corporate committee of Americans Elect, verified registered voters would have to turn out for a procedural vote in proportions that they’ve never turned out for in the past fifty years, not even for a final vote on who would become the next President of the United States. Then, on top of that, they’d just about all have to vote to overturn the corporate decision in order for the decision to be reversed.

Do you think that’s ever going to happen? Do you think Americans Elect corporate leadership is unaware of that historical record? I don’t think so; in a marked departure from his counterfactual statements about other aspects of the bylaws, Americans Elect leader Kellen Arno was aware of this provision, was prepared to try and deflect criticism of it. But Arno can’t deflect reality. All he can try to do is hide the reality, or to say that what’s so just isn’t so. It’s up to us to pay enough attention to see through that.

6 comments to Americans Elect Field Director Fibs about Candidate Censoring Committee on Public Radio

  • Lee Mortimer

    Yes, there are some good questions asked in the Oregon Public Broadcasting interview. And, yes, Americans Elect needs to clarify some of the confusion it has created. Unfortunately, Jim’s post gives the readers an inadequate picture of what it all means.

    To begin, Kellen Arno is one of 54 individuals listed on AE’s website under the heading “Leadership.” Six other people are more prominently named above those 54 with photographs and fuller descriptions, indicating they wield the real operational authority in Americans Elect. Anyone familiar with public campaigns knows that 54 people don’t “lead” an organization, but are more likely serving in an advisory capacity.

    Arno’s description as “National Field Director” most likely relates to his position with Arno Political Associates, the company AE has contracted with to run its ballot access campaign. As Arno is not even listed as a member of AE’s board of directors, he might not be fully conversant with the procedures and functions of AE’s various committees. His explanations seemed to reveal more lack of familiarity than the outright dissembling that Jim’s post attempts to convey.

    Arno is clearly mistaken about the Candidate Certification Committee, at least as far as how AE’s bylaws describe the CCC. The bylaws state the purpose of the Committee as certifying that candidates meet qualifications and experience criteria to be eligible for nomination. It also states that members of the CCC are appointed by AE’s board of directors. So, yes, the board of directors could exercise considerable leverage as to who is eligible to be nominated. But that doesn’t mean the board can force its choice of a nominee on the delegates.

    Arno’s statement about getting a candidate into the nomination process by providing 100,000 online signatures is nothing I’ve seen in any of AE’s information. It sounds like further evidence of Arno’s unfamiliarity with AE’s rules and procedures. But to suggest AE’s board of directors would whip out some “super-secret bylaws Americans Elect has re-written, and chosen not to share with the American people” just at the moment they were ready to impose their choice of a nominee takes things to the paranoid extreme.

    In fact, the Board does not need the Certification Committee to set aside a candidate (or candidates) preferred by the delegates. Section 4.1 of the bylaws states: “the Board shall reserve extraordinary authority and power to take or compel any action necessary to assure that the purpose of Americans Elect is not defeated by the acts or omissions of any persons or parties.” The “purpose” of Americans Elect is well known and not in dispute. That purpose is to nominate a “centrist” ticket for president and vice president. If a set of candidates who lean too far left or too far right appears headed for nomination, the board has given itself the authority to head that off.

    Jim, along with other progressive skeptics, has questioned whether Americans Elect is trying to engineer a left-leaning spoiler ticket to throw the election to the Republicans. AE denies it favors any particular candidate or party. We cannot on the one hand insist that Americans Elect maintain a fully open, democratic process in which AE’s left-leaning delegates are free to nominate a dream progressive ticket — and at the same time accuse AE of secretly manipulating a process designed to siphon votes from the Democrats and assure a Republican victory. We can’t have it both ways.

  • That’s been your accusation that you’ve first trotted out and then responded to, Lee. It’s not mine. You’ve been trying for months to get me to “admit” what I think Americans Elect’s motivation is, and I’ve repeatedly refused to say what Americans Elect’s motivations are, because motivations aren’t observable. Please be more accurate in your characterizations.

    • Lee Mortimer

      I raised this point In response to your 9/22 post about the “coal/casino GOP lobbyist and Liebeman Democrat”–to which you responded, “Your second paragraph supposes that Americans Elect is interested in stopping people from splitting the left-leaning vote. What makes you think Americans Elect is interested in that?” Thus, I stand by my statement that you “questioned whether Americans Elect is trying to engineer a left-leaning spoiler ticket to throw the election to the Republicans.”

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