Americans Elect offers presidential alternative to Colorado voters

Former third party nominees Lamm, Tancredo aren't enthused
The Colorado Statesman

The Secretary of State’s office certified Americans Elect as a new minor political party in Colorado last week, opening the door for a centrist third party challenge and alternative nominating process for president.

Americans Elect views itself not so much as a third party but as a “second way” to nominate a candidate. Officials say it will make history in June 2012 by holding the first-ever direct, online nominating convention that is independent of the nation’s two major political parties.

Colorado became the 10th state in which Americans Elect has gained ballot certification after the Secretary of S­­­­tate’s office verified 12,191 valid petition signatures on Nov. 29. The group needed at least 10,000 valid signatures to qualify as a new minor political party in the state. It hopes to reach certification in all 50 states in an effort to offer Americans a third candidate for president in 2012.

“Coloradans now have more than just two choices on the ballot in November of 2012 — a third choice on the ballot is critical to breaking up the gridlock this country faces,” said Kahlil Byrd, chief executive of Americans Elect, in a statement.

But two prominent Coloradans, former Gov. Dick Lamm and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo — both who have run for office on third party tickets — expressed concern this week that third party candidates could have dire consequences for Obama and his Republican challenger next year.

Former Democratic Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, who in 1996 sought the Reform Party’s nomination for president before losing to Ross Perot, called the experiment a noble idea, but raised concerns over its timing. Despite Lamm’s own dabble in third-party politics, he says now is not the time to risk taking votes away from President Barack Obama.

“I would have thought Americans Elect was a great idea at another time, but the stakes are higher than at any recent time in our history. A good idea which has become too risky for America’s future,” Lamm told The Colorado Statesmanthis week. “I would rather bear the ills we have than to fly to others we know not of.”

On the other side of the fence, conservative stalwart Tom Tancredo, who in 2010 was a candidate for Colorado governor on the American Constitution Party ticket, said he has his doubts when it comes to minor parties like Americans Elect. As a conservative, Tancredo obviously is not concerned with the outcome for Obama, but he does wonder what a minor party might do for the conservative candidate running against the incumbent president.

“The ramifications of a third party situation can sometimes be detrimental to the cause you’re trying to advance,” Tancredo said, recalling the 2008 presidential race in which he was a candidate for the Republican nomination before eventually dropping out of the race that ultimately pitted Obama against Republican Sen. John McCain. “A third-party candidate against somebody like John McCain and Barack Obama, under those considerations, you have to say to yourself, ‘What if I actually caused Obama to get elected? How could I live with myself?’”

Americans Elect says any registered voter can become a delegate to debate the issues, develop a platform of questions and select a candidate of their choice. Their website, AmericansElect.org, explains their views and visitors can pledge support to their favorite politicians, business leaders, university presidents, military officials, or ordinary citizens. The organization hopes to have its candidates page online by the end of December.

Successive rounds of online voting beginning in April 2012 will narrow what may be a wide and diverse field to six finalists who are seeking the nomination of Americans Elect. The six will be required to choose a running mate from outside their own party in an added effort to create a truly centrist ticket. The online voting will culminate in June 2012 with an Internet convention to choose a nationwide Americans Elect presidential nominee. Assuming that candidate clears 15 percent in national polls, they will be allowed to participate in the fall presidential debates.

Only one candidate, former Republican Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, has officially declared his candidacy for the nomination of Americans Elect. Roemer has garnered only minimal success in his campaign for president on the Republican Party ticket this year, so Americans Elect offers a potential alternative for him.

For supporters of the alternative nominating process, the idea reflects deep frustrations with the current state of American politics and the overpowering polarized two-party system. Erik Keizer, an Americans Elect national delegate who lives in Denver, doesn’t view the experiment as creating a third party in America. Rather, “I see it as a vehicle for average Americans like me to be able to vote for a person instead of for a party,” Keizer said. “That’s what I see; that’s what’s attractive to me.”

But Keizer is slightly skeptical as he works to make Coloradans aware of the alternative nominating process. Much of the hesitation comes from those who are uncertain about the technology behind the online nominating process itself, said Keizer. Others, however, fear that a minor political party can take votes away from mainstream candidates who stand a better chance at making progress.

Lamm still believes the two-party system in America is broken and he encourages change. “I have lost faith in both political parties,” Lamm said. “Both are corrupted by special interest money and controlled by special interests. Neither political party has an agenda to keep America socially or fiscally sound. I think America desperately needs a new political coalition and/or party.”

But for Americans Elect, progress won’t come without the risk. Anna Moore, a delegate leader from Colorado Springs, said the concern should not be on other candidates. “If they’re afraid that it’s going to take votes from other candidates, then those other candidates have issues,” said Moore. “If those other candidates can’t earn their own votes, then they have problems.”

Moore said the experiment is about breaking the mold and giving Americans real options. “This is a way to kind of shake things up again and remind [politicians] that the American voters do have a say, and we can change things,” Moore added. “This is a way to prove that we can change things, and that we can make things better, and to basically light a fire under them.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com