On Monday, Secretary of State Debra Bowen officially certified Americans Elect to appear on California's ballots for the 2012 elections. The addition brings the number of qualified political parties in the state to seven, including the American Independent, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom and Republican parties. It is the first time a new political entity has been certified by the state since 1995.
There are two ways in which a political body can achieve ballot access in the Golden State: by registration or petition. It can either register at least 103,004 voters who affiliate with that party, i.e. 1% of the total number of votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election, or it can collect valid petition signatures totaling 10% of the turnout in the previous gubernatorial election, in this case, 1,030,040. Americans Elect opted for the latter.
The group submitted over 1.5 million petition signatures to the Secretary of State in July. According to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, the last political party to qualify for the California ballot by the petition method was Henry Wallace's Independent Progressive Party, which was certified in 1947-1948.
Americans Elect has now achieved ballot access in thirteen states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Utah. As the group is determined to obtain ballot access in all 50 states ahead of next year's elections in order to field an Independent ticket for president, its certification in California represents a significant milestone. The over 1.5 million signatures it gathered in California exceeds the total number of signatures it will have to collect to gain ballot access in all the other states combined.
Such a monumental task raises an obvious question: who is funding the group's efforts? This has been a thorny issue for the organization. Technically, it is not a political party but rather a 501(c)4 social welfare group, which does not require that donations to the organization be made public. According to a report by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times last July, Americans Elect is "financed with some serious hedge-fund money." The organization's spokesperson, Ileana Wachtel, recently stated that over 4,000 individuals have donated around $30 million to support its efforts and that much of this money will be paid back to original investors as it broadens its donor base.
In defense of keeping donor names out of the public record, Wachtel has stated that many supporters, Democrats and Republicans alike, "fear recrimination from within their own party if their names are disclosed," according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. Given the scorn for Independent and third party alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans among supporters of the political status quo, such trepidation is not difficult to comprehend.
In addition to questioning its funding sources, critics have also drawn attention to the process by which the organization will select its candidates for president and vice president. The group will hold the first ever online primary for a presidential ticket in the United States.
Any legal voter can become a delegate of the organization by registering on its website, which qualifies the individual to cast a ballot in its online nominating convention. A first round of voting will be held in April to winnow the field of candidates down to six or less, to be followed by the official online nominating convention in July. However, the organization's delegates do not technically have the final say in the matter. A committee selected by the group's board of directors will vet all candidates to ensure they pass presidential muster by comparison with past holders of the office. Thus far, few critics have raised obvious concerns regarding the security and integrity of a direct online presidential primary election, but they are sure to come as the group continues its efforts toward ballot access in all fifty states.
To date, former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, a candidate for the Republican party's nomination, is the only individual who has stated an intention to seek the nomination of Americans Elect.