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New party on track to gain ballot access in California

by Damon Eris, published

In addition to the Democrats and Republicans, there are four other ballot-qualified political parties in California, and over a dozen smaller political bodies which are formally attempting to gain ballot access ahead of the 2012 presidential election.  At least one of the latter is already well on its way. 

According to the most recent report on voter registration from the Secretary of State’s office, there are currently over 17 million registered voters in California. With 23.6 million eligible voters in the state, total voter registration is just under 73%.  Among registered voters, 44% are Democrats, 31% are Republicans, 20.4% have no party preference, and just under 5% are registered with a third party.  

Of all third parties in the state, the American Independent Party has by far the most registered voters, with 417,567.  In a distant second is the Green Party, which has over 110,000 members. The Libertarians are close behind the Greens, with over 92,000 registrants.  And, finally, more than 58,000 California voters are registered with the Peace and Freedom Party.  Interestingly, there are more voters registered “other” than there are in the Green, Libertarian or Peace and Freedom parties.  More than 121,000 Californians are affiliated with a third party that is not officially recognized by the state.

Over a dozen political bodies have filed papers with the Secretary of State formally declaring their intention to qualify for ballot access in time for the 2012 presidential primary elections, scheduled for February 7th of next year. Some are more well-known than others.  Among them are the Reform Party and the Constitution Party, which already effectively possess some level of name recognition and a national reach.  Others, such as the Working Families Party and the Modern Whig Party, are expanding into California from their already-existing regional bases in the northeast and the south. 

In May, Ballot Access News reported that the new political organization Americans Elect had already collected over 500,000 signatures in its ballot access petition drive.  

     “This already sets a new record for the largest number of signatures ever collected in one state to place a new party on the ballot. The previous highs had been set by the American Independent Party in Ohio in 1968, which collected 451,000 signatures; and the Independent Progressive Party in California in 1947-1948, which collected 464,000,” noted Richard Winger in the report.  

To gain ballot access by petition in California, parties must gather over 1,000,000 valid signatures – the exact number being equal to 10% of the total vote in the previous gubernatorial election.  Alternately, a new party can qualify if its total registration exceeds 1% of the previous gubernatorial election.  Why then would Americans Elect seek 1 million signatures rather than 100,000 members?  As the party’s national field director, Kellen Arno, explains in an interview on the group’s website, Americans Elect is apparently not interested in membership per se. 

     “One of the core beliefs of Americans Elect is welcoming Americans from all political parties and ideologies. Because we are not a traditional third party or political part of any sort, we don’t want to ask people to leave their parties. Instead, we believe that the more people who are able to participate in Americans Elect, from as diverse backgrounds as possible, ultimately makes our democracy and our country stronger,” says Arno. 

In recent months, Americans Elect has quietly begun an ambitious campaign to gain ballot access in all 50 states ahead of next year’s presidential election.  The party has already submitted petitions in Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Alaska, and Florida, according to reports at Ballot Access News.

However, relatively little seems to be known about the group, and it has received very little news coverage, despite the fact that it seems to have a significant amount of money at its disposal.  

     “Americans Elect, which became a 501(c) 4 corporation in September, can be as secretive as it wishes. As a 501(c) 4 it is not required to report who its contributors are,” wrote Greg Lucas for Capitol Weekly back in April.  

A Google News search for “Americans Elect,” returns just three references to the organization and two of these are from Ballot Access News. 

Until it was converted into a 501(c) 4, Americans Elect was registered as a 527 organization.  According to Open Secrets, there were two primary contributors to that incarnation of the group: Peter Ackerman and Arno Political Consultants.  Ackerman was previously active in the failed Unity ‘08 effort to field a bipartisan presidential ticket in the 2008 election.

Though Americans Elect is seeking ballot access in all 50 states as a political party, it does not conceive itself as a party, at least in the traditional sense.  Rather, it stresses how new technologies can transform the political process in the United States.  

     “Americans Elect will hold a secure vote in the first-ever online presidential nominating convention. Every registered voter—Democrats, Republicans, and independents—may be a Delegate and help nominate a presidential ticket that bridges the vital center of our national politics,” says the group on its “About” page. 

Though the group has received relatively little media attention to date, some expect its campaign to kick into high gear over the summer.  

     “There is a vacuum of traditional political news during the summer months . . . This summer, I expect the big political drama to be the emergence of Americans Elect,” writes Jim Cook at Irregular TImes