Is this what Democracy looks like?
Here’s an e-mail Americans Elect Policy Director Brian Findlay sent me late last night after I followed AE rules and formally moved to reverse its decision to allow as few as 5 people to fully fund Americans Elect:
From: Brian Findlay
Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2012 10:18 PM
Subject: Statement of petition
Dear Mr. Cook,
Thank you for initiating a request for Delegate reversal of a Board decision pursuant to Americans Elect Pre-election Convention Rule 12.2. Your request for reversal of the Board’s decision submitted on Friday, 2 March 2012 regarding the proportion of supporter funding is timely and in order for consideration. Accordingly, the Website has posted your statement along with instructions that any Delegate who wishes to initiate a reversal vote should support your statement. You will have 48 hours to obtain the required support from Delegates upon the posting. [The 48-hour window started at 9pm EST today, after I verified that the Board decision was posted in its entirety and your statement of petition was available for Delegates to view.] If enough Delegates support your request, we will proceed with a reversal vote as required by the Rules.
That all sounds nice, and finally — after a period of non-compliance — Americans Elect is following its own rules for such reversals.
But is it democracy?
Notice the language:
Accordingly, the Website has posted your statement along with instructions that any Delegate who wishes to initiate a reversal vote should support your statement. You will have 48 hours to obtain the required support from Delegates upon the posting.
Two features jump out.
First, the Americans Elect website has indeed posted my statement along with instructions for delegates. But that’s all it’s done. It hasn’t sent out any messages to delegates letting them know about the motion, even though it has their e-mail addresses. And even though Americans Elect has a “News” section of its website, it hasn’t posted the news about a motion to be voted on there either. Americans Elect hasn’t sent a message to its delegates in any way.
Because Americans Elect hasn’t sent out any message to delegates, the delegates will have to somehow stumble across the motion. In order to find the motion, discover that it exists, and then take action, ten thousand delegates will all need to:
1) for some reason or other, decide all on their own that they want to visit the Americans Elect website within the next 48 hours;
2) further decide that they’d like to click on the “About” tab, even though if they’ve signed up and been verified as delegates they’ve kind of already passed the “About” stage;
3) beyond that, further decide that they’d like to click on the new “Board Decisions” tab for some reason;
4) then scroll down to the second decision, where they’ll read the needed text.
How likely is that, not just for one but for ten thousand delegates, all within the next 48 hours? Not likely at all. If Americans Elect is sincerely interested in giving delegates a chance to weigh in on the motion, it will have to affirmatively let delegates know that the motion exists. But Americans Elect hasn’t done that.
This is where we get to the second point. Instead of letting delegates know there’s a motion under consideration for them to vote on, it’s sent me an e-mail after starting the 48-hour period telling me that it’s my responsibility “to obtain the required support from Delegates.”
OK, I can handle responsibility. I’ve had a cat and a dog before. So let me get started here… by… um…
… contacting the delegates and obtaining their support. Wait a second. How do I do that?
There isn’t any e-mailing list for delegates that Americans Elect has shared with me. There isn’t a form on Americans Elect’s website for me to use to send out a message to delegates either. And even if I wanted to go try to find the delegates so I could somehow send them a message, I couldn’t even do that — because Americans Elect has hidden delegates’ contact information and refrained from creating a means for delegates to contact one another.
First of all, Americans Elect delegates’ profile settings are set to “Private” by default, so unless delegates choose otherwise there’s no way to me find their profile information at all:
That’s nice from a privacy point of view, actually, but if it’s my responsibility to get in touch with 10,000 delegates and rally support for my motion over the next 48 hours, then by golly it’ll be hard to find them when even their profiles are kept secret.
And what if a delegate happens to choose to make their profile “public”? Do I have a better chance of getting in touch with them then?
Nope. Go ahead: check out my profile page. I’ve made it public. Here’s what you’ll see today (click on the image for a full-screen view):
There’s no way to contact a fellow delegate. None. Not even if they’ve made their profile public. Oh, there’s a very interesting looking graphic called “Caucus” on the upper-right, but it’s a grayed-out link. It doesn’t work. It’s “coming soon” (and remember, the candidate voting system was “coming soon” for months). “Coming soon” doesn’t do me any good. I’ve filed a motion already (which I had to do when I did because Americans Elect requires objection motions to be filed within 72 hours of any notice of an Americans Elect decision) and I need to be able to contact delegates today. Now.
It can’t be done.
For the second time in two days, I’m find myself feeling as though I’m speaking to a Vogon, the fictional species that blows up the Earth in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, explaining indignantly to protesting Earthlings that:
“There’s no point acting all surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now.”
Americans Elect has a nominally democratic process. I can, nominally, file a motion. Nominally, delegates can click a button on a website stuck away in the third level of a menu system to vote for my motion. But practically speaking, Americans Elect has hidden away the elements that are needed for people to assert their full, actual democratic role in this process. That’s Vogon.
P.S. I’m not even sure Americans Elect has 10,000 voter-registration-verified delegates. So I’ve written back to Brian Findlay to ask him for the information I need to play my part in this “democratic” process:
Thanks for writing. In order to do what you’ve asked me to do, I’ll need:
1) A verification by you that there are actually 10,000 verified delegates. Are there actually 10,000 verified delegates?
2) A way to reach those delegates to let them know about this motion. Can you provide that, please?
I haven’t heard back from Brian Findlay, but I’ll let you know if I do. I’ll also let you know at what hour in the process I hear back, whether that’s during the 48 hour period for me to contact the delegates and win their votes, or after the process is done and it’s too late.
If you don’t see any update here, you’ll know I haven’t heard back from Americans Elect at all.