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Americans Elect Corporation Overrules Vote by Membership to Choose its own Platform of Questions

Americans Elect is the first-ever 501c4 corporation to want to run its very own privatized online election to nominate a presidential candidate. It’s only 100 days until the first ballot. But it has run a preliminary vote already. Did Americans Elect abide by the results?

Introduction: Considering the Platform of Questions

Americans Elect says “The Delegates — and the rest of the American people — are the true boss of Americans Elect”. Americans Elect says that you, the American People, get to “choose the questions all candidate must answer to seek the Americans Elect nomination.” Americans Elect Bylaw 2.5 says that choice will be exclusive and determinative.

The Platform of Questions matters. As Rule 8.0 of the Americans Elect formal procedure explains, the Platform of Questions is very important because it is the standard by which possible presidential tickets will be accepted as reasonable or not. If a presidential ticket is not deemed by Americans Elect leadership to be “balanced” according to the standard laid out by of the Platform of Questions, then regardless of what rank-and-file membership say the ticket won’t be allowed on the Americans Elect ballot.

Fortunately, Section 2.5 of the Americans Elect bylaws is very clear about who’s in charge of determining the Platform of Questions. The American people, signed up as rank-and-file delegates in the Americans Elect corporate presidential nomination, are supposed to have “exclusive power and authority” to determine the Platform of Questions that all Americans Elect presidential candidates must answer.

Section 2.5. Power and Authority of Delegates. Americans Elect shall confer directly on the Delegates such functions as traditionally have been within the authority of the leadership of the major political parties. Delegates shall have exclusive power and authority to draft, support, oppose, and nominate the Americans Elect ticket for President and Vice President of the United States of America in accordance with the rules of the online convention; convene in convention after the November election and before the Electoral College to endorse and direct electors to vote for any candidate who appeared on the November ballot in the event the Americans Elect ticket did not receive the most votes nationally of any ticket on the November ballot; determine, adopt, and ratify the rules of the online convention and platform of questions in accordance with these Bylaws; and with approval of the Board, certify or decertify other Delegates and candidates in accordance with these Bylaws.

In its public communications, Americans Elect has also been very clear about what the central American people are supposed to play in determining this Platform of Questions. In a “staff spotlight” press release imitating an interview, Americans Elect asks its own Chief Operating Officer Elliot Ackerman (son of Americans Elect funder and Chairman Peter Ackerman) to explain the role the Platform of Questions plays in the process:

How is the Platform of Questions different from the kind of convention platforms we are used to hearing about?

We won’t be mandating or dictating a platform. Ours is a Platform of Questions, emphasis on questions, and those questions come from the Delegates. They are questions about the most important issues facing our nation. The candidates who seek the Americans Elect nomination must answer the Platform of Questions by posting their responses on the website. We see this as a national conversation. It will be a competitive process. May the best questions win!

In September 2011, just before it opened a process for its membership to write questions for presidential candidates and vote them up or down, Americans Elect explained how the voting process on questions would work through another news release:

One of the most frustrating things about candidate debates is that too often, it feels like the questions you want answered aren’t asked. And on the rare occasions that they’re asked, they often aren’t answered.

We’ve already talked a lot about how Americans Elect allows you to nominate a candidate for president, a power traditionally reserved for a select few. But in view of tonight’s Republican presidential debate, we think it’s a good time to talk about another vital role that you’ll play in our alternative nominating process: Moderator.

Starting this fall, when we launch our Shape the Debate feature, you’ll be able to write your own questions for the candidates. Then you can vote online to decide what questions all Americans Elect candidates are required to answer.

No longer will you be forced to sit by your television and wonder why the moderator won’t ask the question you want to hear. You’ll be the moderator, without leaving your house.

On its “About” page, Americans Elect is again very clear: YOU get to choose the Platform of Questions through Shape the Debate:

Americans Elect says YOU will Choose the Questions all candidates must answer by posting and voting on questions

On December 2 2011 Americans Elect issued another news release declaring:

Delegates drive the Platform of Questions that all Americans Elect candidates will have to answer.

On January 6 2012, Americans Elect issued two news releases that were somewhat at odds. To the New Hampshire press, Americans Elect issued a notice inviting voters to sign up online so they could “develop the Platform of Questions”. Nationally, Americans Elect issued another news release announcing that the Platform of Questions had already been chosen, and that members’ participation in Shape the Debate was as promised the means by which this occurred:

For some time, you’ve been participating in our Shape the Debate feature, where you propose questions you think all the presidential candidates should answer, and rate questions proposed by others. Your participation has now resulted in the first Platform of Questions, which all AE candidates will be required to answer.

“May the best questions win!”
“…true boss…”
“…you can vote online to decide what questions all Americans Elect candidates are required to answer.”
“…exclusive power and authority…”
“Delegates drive the Platform of Questions that all Americans Elect candidates will have to answer.”

Is this what happened? No. And here’s why.

Americans Elect’s Back Door: Corporate Appointees to “Ensure Their Integrity”

While one part of the Americans Elect corporate bylaws declares very clearly that its delegates have the “exclusive power and authority” to determine the Platform of Questions, Americans Elect elsewhere reserves that authority for its corporate leadership. Americans Elect bylaws Section 5.3.1 mentions a Platform of Questions Committee that is to develop the questions:

Section 5.3. Platform of Questions Committee.

5.3.1. Purpose. The Platform of Questions Committee shall be responsible for developing proposed questions for submission to the Delegates, polling the Delegates to determine which questions to include in the final platform of questions as well as any amendments thereto;”

Bylaw 5.3.2 specifies that this Platform of Questions Committee is “appointed by the Board” of Directors and “shall serve at the pleasure of the Board and may be removed without cause.”

Americans Elect Rule 2.1.3.1 declares that this corporate-controlled Platform of Questions Committee shall “refine” the delegates choice:

“Platform of Questions” shall mean the Delegate-driven and Platform of Questions Committee-refined questions posed to and answered by all Delegates and Candidates to ensure informed decisions by Delegates and unambiguous positions by Candidates

And Americans Elect’s documents page clarifies that the Platform of Questions Committee will “formalize” the questions to “ensure their integrity”:

PLATFORM OF QUESTIONS

Americans Elect delegates will collectively decide on a “platform of questions” that all candidates will be required to answer in order to seek the nomination. These questions will be formalized by the Platform of Questions Committee to ensure their integrity.

In short, while Americans Elect has been issuing grand public statements about the delegates being the “true boss” in charge of developing the Platform of Questions through a “voting process” (“May the best questions win!”), the corporate-appointed Platform of Questions Committee has the final say in choosing the actual questions.

On December 19 2011 the self-appointed Americans Elect Board of Directors met to vote to approve the Platform of Questions. This is a power of the Board of Directors not laid out in either the Rules or the Bylaws. On January 6 2012 Americans Elect announced its board-approved Platform of Questions. You can read the Board’s 15 Questions here.

What was the result? Did members end up with the exclusive power to determine the Platform of Questions, as Bylaw 2.5 stipulates? If so, then Platform of Questions approved by the corporate Board of Directors should reflect the questions receiving the most votes by members. Or did committees of the corporate Board of Directors of Americans Elect choose its own Platform of Questions that don’t reflect the vote?

Americans Elect’s Result: The People’s Questions, Overruled

Does the Americans Elect Platform of Questions reflect rank-and-file members’ votes on questions at Shape the Debate?

In short, no. Listed on the left are the Top 25 questions selected by Americans Elect rank-and-file members. I’m including the Top 25 vote-getters to be thorough, so you can look down the list to see if perhaps the Americans Elect corporate leadership drew from lower down on the list. Listed on the right is the Platform of Questions, a set of 15 questions approved by the Americans Elect corporate leadership a week before Christmas:

The 25 Questions Getting the Most Votes from the Americans Elect Membership

#1, the top recipient of votes: “EDUCATION: American public education is far behind the standards set by comparable nations, yet economic problems are creating further cuts in education. In the economic climate today, how can American education be brought back to compete internationally? -Eric N.”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#2, “ECONOMY: Considering the state of the US budget, do you believe that the tax system should be reformed? If so, what specific reforms would you suggest? -Connor S”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#3, “ECONOMY: Corporations are currently given same rights as people. Do you agree or disagree with this legal practice, and how would your administration’s policies reflect that perspective? -David B.”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? No]

#4, “ENERGY: It’s been said that the energy race is the next arms race. How important is the search for new sources of energy and how should the US approach the situation? -Alex H”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#5, “HEALTHCARE: What would be your ideal healthcare system for America? Please be specific about how it would be funded.”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#6, “REFORM: In the wake of the Citizens United decision by the United States Supreme Court, many people believe that money has too much influence in political campaigns. Do you agree? If so, how might we reform current election laws to change this?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? No]

#7, “REFORM: Technology is advancing at an accelerating rate, but so much of our system runs on centuries-old bureaucratic processes. How would you promote the utilization of technology to rid government of inefficiency and to become more effective? -Devin F.”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? No]

#8, “FOREIGN POLICY: How do you plan to deal with nations who wish to acquire nuclear weapons (e.g., Iran and North Korea)?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? No]

#9, “REFORM: Since the President’s appointment has a two-term limit, would you support term limits on all elected offices (such as Senators, Congresspeople, and Governors)?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? No]

#10, “REFORM: Would you support replacing the electoral college with a national popular vote?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? No]

#11, “FOREIGN POLICY: The US has created a military presence around the world that is unmatched in history. With troops in 130 countries, the cost of militarism and empire is tremendous. As Commander in Chief how would trim the bloated military industrial complex? – Shannon H.”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Only Vaguely]

#12, “ECONOMY: What is your plan to reform the Tax-Code and Tax System? Please be specific in your answer.”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#13, “HEALTHCARE: Some people believe that free competition among private insurance companies is the best way to control the cost of health care. Others believe that a single payer system is more efficient. What do you believe is best for the United States?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Only Vaguely]

#14, “REFORM: What reforms will you take to ensure that corporations and unions cannot “buy” seats in Congress and other positions, both legislative and executive?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? No]

#15, “ENERGY: What will you do to make this nation more sustainable energy-wise? What is the biggest obstacle in making this goal a reality?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Only Vaguely]

#16, “ENERGY: Renewable energy sources are preferable to non-renewable ones; however, current technology makes renewable ones less efficient. What incentives/rewards would you use to aid the private sector in making such sources more efficient?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Only Vaguely]

#17, “REFORM: Do you believe that agricultural subsidies like the ones for corn production should be increased, decreased, or eliminated and why?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? No]

#18, “REFORM: Economists, business leaders, and many Americans view our Internal Revenue Code as unfair and overly complex. How would you simplify the tax code and what would be your guiding principles?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#19, “ECONOMY: What do you believe the most effective way to create jobs sustainably in this current economy is?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#20, “ENERGY: In your opinion, how important is it for the United States to be energy independent? What programs and policies would you support to provide us with energy independence?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#21, “EDUCATION: During economic downturn, people return to college to learn a new skill; however, in such cases, government usually decreases education spending when it is needed most. How would you make sure that Higher Education in the US remains competitive?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#22, “EDUCATION: With our country falling behind in the world rankings, what will be done to efficiently make our public school system better?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#23, “ENVIRONMENT: What stance do you take toward granting agencies like the EPA broader authority to regulate greenhouse emissions? Are you generally in favor or opposed?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#24, “ENVIRONMENT: The US is a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, resulting in global warming. To reduce our carbon footprint (and attain energy independence), we must make substantial changes. What do you propose to significantly decrease our emissions? -Ryan L.”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

#25, “ENVIRONMENT: With growing global concern over pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, the debate over alternative energy technologies is one of great importance. What is your plan for this nation with regards to alternative energy sources?”
[Reflected in the Americans Elect Board of Directors Platform of Questions? Yes]

The Platform of Questions Approved by the Americans Elect Board of Directors

#1, ECONOMY: “What do you think are the most important steps government can take to promote job creation?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? Yes]

#2, ECONOMY: “How would you reform federal taxes?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? Yes]

#3, ECONOMY: “Do you believe corporations should be more heavily regulated, even if it means higher compliance costs?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? Only Vaguely and Reframed, Using Different Vocabulary and Not In Terms of "Compliance Costs"]

#4, ECONOMY: “How do you propose we reduce the national debt, and how much should the national debt be considered in economic recovery plans?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? No]

#5, HEALTHCARE: “What role should the federal government play in the healthcare industry? Is healthcare a right?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? Yes, with rewording]

#6, HEALTHCARE: What do you think is driving the rapid growth of health care costs, and how would you slow it down? Would you support putting some kind of cap on what the government spends on Medicare?
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? No]

#7, HEALTHCARE: Should the government require that all citizens have healthcare insurance? If so, what is your thought about a premium support model similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program?
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? No]

#8, EDUCATION: “Why aren’t our K-12 schools preparing graduates to compete in the global economy, and what would you do as president to lift their performance?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? Only Vaguely and Reframed to specify K-12 education and to define graduates as economic competitors]

#9, EDUCATION: “Why do you think college costs keep rising? Are students getting their money’s worth, and what would you do to slow down cost growth?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? No]

#10, EDUCATION: “What would you do to improve workforce development and job training opportunities for U.S. workers?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? No]

#11, ENERGY: “Is U.S. energy independence a feasible goal and, if so, how would you achieve it? How would you reduce our reliance on foreign oil?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? Yes]

#12, ENERGY: “What steps will you take to make this nation’s growing energy demand more sustainable?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? Yes]

#13, ENERGY: How important is reducing carbon emissions, and how would you go about it? In addition to renewable fuels, do you believe natural gas and nuclear energy should play a larger role in America’s energy mix?
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? Yes with regard to carbon emissions but No with respect to natural gas and nuclear energy]

#14, FOREIGN POLICY: “What circumstances justify U.S. military intervention? Do you think America should continue to play a leading role in world affairs, or lay down some of those responsibilities?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? Only Vaguely and Reframed to leave out mention of the military-industrial complex or trimming the military budget and to reframe Empire as a "leading role in world affairs"]

#15, FOREIGN POLICY: “Is America’s enormous trade deficit with China a problem? How would you boost U.S. exports and encourage China and other countries to buy more from us?”
[Drawn from one or more of the Top 25 Questions in the Americans Elect membership vote? No]

There are a number of subtleties in comparing the winners of the Shape the Debate vote to the corporate board’s Platform of Questions, and I encourage you to contribute to the discussion regarding that comparison by entering a comment to this article (a feature that Americans Elect unfortunately does not allow on its own website).

That said, some patterns are clear. Americans Elect has not, as its public relations materials declare and its bylaws specify, allowed rank-and-file Americans Elect members to determine the Platform of Questions through the Shape the Debate vote. Some of the questions receiving the most votes were incorporated in the Board-approved Platform of Questions, but many questions receiving the most votes were eliminated from the Platform. Many of the subjects that were incorporated into the corporate board’s Platform of Questions were reworded to incorporate corporate-oriented concerns. In addition, the corporate Board of Directors of Americans Elect introduced a number of entirely new ideas into its Platform of Questions that were not reflected at all in the set of questions that won its the Shape the Debate vote.

Conclusion
With its process finally underway, we can observe what Americans Elect has done in its first vote. When Americans Elect members spoke with their votes, the Americans Elect corporate leadership overruled them. Americans Elect is not an institution of democracy. Americans Elect is an institution of top-down corporate governance.

Its next step: to nominate a presidential candidate. Watch closely.

2 comments to Americans Elect Corporation Overrules Vote by Membership to Choose its own Platform of Questions

  • Tom

    Oh, come on – you knew this was going to happen! All along you’ve been exposing their “hidden agenda” and “secret backing” – so the fix was in from the beginning!
    Remember when you couldn’t even get in the building to get an interview? What else did you expect?
    Thanks for exposing their folly / bait and switch / bullshit pay to play little club that they’ve been trying to foist on the otherwise ignorant public. Everywhere i see anyone questioning this AE outfit i sent links to your investigative reporting (places like the Big Picture and Question Everything blogs where people were “curious” about this new game in town regarding voting). Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks, Tom.

      It would be more fair to say I suspected this was going to happen. You know, it could have ended up differently. Americans Elect could have used this to offer something that would expand democracy. But they didn’t. What a sad waste of resources on their part.

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