This past summer, a new force in elections and politics was unveiled: Americans Elect.
Americans Elect is an organization dedicated to bringing popular representation back into U.S. politics and allowing better leaders to become viable candidates by creating a viable third-party. In this system, candidates are selected via online voting.
The website sprung in response to the poisonous feud Washington has seen recently. Americans Elect aims to be the platform that allows for the first non-partisan nomination to president in recent history. As Americans increasingly feel disconnected from the political process, they will search for new ways to directly influence or change it. The American Elect experiment is the first step in the inevitable sea-change coming in American politics.
President Barack Obama’s approval ratings recently sunk to new lows, having been bound to the depressing anchor of the economy. The only reassuring thing for Obama is that he is not doing nearly as poorly as Congress in the great American popularity test. Congress has seen its approval ratings sink to historic depths.
Americans are not happy with their representatives. The swell of discontent is likely to only get larger as the economy continues to fail to grow and more and more young people struggle to find jobs. These are the conditions that make for dramatic change. Americans Elect will be the first expression of this dramatic change.
Americans Elect is doing this by encouraging voters to become “delegates” by registering on its website and taking a lengthy questionnaire aimed at identifying each voter’s priorities and opinions. The next step is filing petitions to allow the Americans Elect party on to the ballots in all 50 states, which is what the organization is working on now.
This is the first step in digitizing the electoral process and, in doing so, giving independent voters an easy way to directly influence elections. Even if this iteration of digital populism fails and the 2012 election is not meaningfully influenced by the presence of Americans Elect, the idea will persist. Nearly every other facet of human life is being digitized and brought into a bottom-up rather than top-down model, from social lives to business. Why would politics be any different?
Indeed, there are vested interests with a large stake in keeping the status-quo as is. In this respect, the dismal state of the U.S. economy and the surging disenfranchisement amongst most voters may be a boon. The simultaneous senses of malaise and urgency felt by the electorate will create a positive reaction to any system that allows for direct representation and more moderate candidates. Because of American Elect’s bottom-up and internet-based model, it bypasses a lot of hurdles facing candidates trying to run in our current two party system. No anointing by party-elders in required and there is no need to make good with powerful special interests for campaign donations.
It is also likely that extreme conservatives and liberals will stay within their respective Republican and Democratic camps, making the nomination of moderate and independent candidates within digital systems such as Americans Elect all the more possible and expectable.
Americans Elect is the prototype for a great idea. The idea of digitizing politics has been too long in the making.
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