Published February 22, 2012
A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization looking to spice up the 2012 election wants to use the latest technology to create the first online-based nominating process for a third and independent candidate to challenge President Obama and the GOP.
And while it sounds like a third political party, Americans Elect says it is only interested in creating a second nominating process designed to provide voters with ballot access in all 50 states for the would-be nominee.
"Technology has leveled the playing field in every other facet of our lives except for our political lives. It's the only place where as Americans we're forced to accept Brand A and Brand B. So let's crack that open. Let's get more competition into our politics, and the beneficiaries of that will be the American people," said former Marine and Americans Elect COO Elliot Ackerman.
Here's how it works: Any registered voter, regardless of party affiliation, can sign up online to be a delegate and nominate a candidate. Candidates answer user-submitted questions and try to get the most clicks of "support" (think "like" on Facebook) to qualify as one of the top six candidates.
The finalists are required to select running mates from the opposite party (i.e. a Republican would choose a Democrat, or vice versa), and then delegates choose which bipartisan ticket will get the Americans Elect nomination at an online convention.
Americans Elect has invested millions of dollars into developing and securing its website and online voting process. With such tight security measures, Larry Fishelson, a tech security expert and COO of DynaLink Communications, says voter fraud is now significantly more difficult to accomplish online than it is with traditional voting practices.
"They've come up with something here that will revolutionize the way we do it (voting) going forward," tech security expert Larry Fishelson told FoxNews.com. "With the right software and the right technology, now you're able to track it better because it's all computer based."
The general election is still nine months away, and Americans Elect's nominee won't be chosen until June, but a legitimate and reasonable third ticket could influence the 2012 presidential election.
Third-party candidates like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader have been blamed for giving away presidential elections to the opposing party in 1992, 1996 and 2000. But raw data shows that third-party candidates have received fewer and fewer votes in the last 20 years, reaching a high of 20 percent of the total vote in 1992, and falling to 2 percent in 2008.
If recent polling is any indicator though, voters may be having a renewed interest in the idea of a third-party. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 48 percent of voters agree a third party is needed. When it came to voting for a third-party candidate, 22 percent said they definitely would, while 46 percent said they would consider it.
Popular votes only go so far in general elections, though, notes Marissa Grayson, a political science professor at Samford University.
"The fact that we have plurality voting is going to be a problem. Ross Perot was able to win 19 percent of the popular vote, but he didn't get any of Electoral College votes."
Grayson said whether or not an Americans Elect candidate is going to be a game changer in the 2012 election is impossible to know since the nominee is still unknown.
She added that even with candidates getting thousands of clicks of "support" online, that won't necessarily translate into receiving actual votes.
"I don't think that just because people have clicked on a button online that means that they are necessarily interested in electing these people. ... Just because people are enthusiastic about them does not mean that they're ultimately going to support them in the end."
Ackerman, however, says voters are tired of the same old politics in Washington, and he is convinced that Americans Elect is leading the way of the future in terms of how we vote and the kinds of leaders we elect.
"We had millions of people who signed our petitions across this country, and as folks realize that Americans Elect is going to be an option for them in 2012 and they're not going to have to settle on two candidates, the reception has been overwhelming; and in 2012 there's going to be a three-horse race."