Sunday, May 6, 2012

This Weak's Voting At Americans Elect: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Edition

Feeling like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day, we have spent the past nine weeks collecting and analyzing 'weakly' voting data from Americans Elect's long-running first-round ballot for its nominee for President, only to observe every week that the vote was going nowhere and that we were fast running out of fresh synonyms for 'fail':
  • 3/31/12: "Voter participation continued to disappoint as Americans elected to ignore this..."
  • 4/07/12: " candidate can qualify for the second round...."
  • 4/14/12: "Voter turnout...was anemic again this week...."
  • 4/21/12: "...disinterested voters continue to fail to vote...."
  • 4/27/12: "...we project the winner will be (...drum-roll...): no one"
So it came as no surprise when the clock struck midnight on May 1 this week -- the appointed end of first-round voting -- and all of AECorp's 489 declared and draft candidates simultaneously turned into pumpkins, with none in possession of the failrly modest number of votes required by the rules in order to advance to the next round ballot.

What was surprising was the aftermath of this slow-motion train wreck, which we chronicled in another article this week. Initially we felt sure that AECorp's owner/operator, Peter Ackerman, must have a disaster recovery plan ready, and would move quickly to get it out in front of this story. To paraphrase AECorp draft candidate, former Senator, and bit-part actor Fred Thompson: "Wall Street tycoons don't take a dump without a plan, son."  Surely, we thought, Ackerman would eat a little crow and move the goalposts, reducing the vote tally required to advance to the next round (in which case the interesting story would be precisely where he planted the new goalposts...which candidates he would invite into the next round, and which he would permit past the velvet rope, like the beefy doorman at the hot new club in town).

But nine hours of radio silence from AECorp's Washington penthouse headquarters -- no press release, no email to delegates, no notice on the web site -- left us realizing that Ackerman & Co., even at this late hour, had no clue how to spin this story. When we reached AE's press secretary, Ileana Wachtel, for comment she was understandably jumpy -- a talking head without a polished script to read. "Since no candidate earned enough support clicks to qualify for the First Primary ballot on May 8," Wachtel told us, "we are cancelling that ballot and will move on to the Second Primary ballot on May 15." 

It was a stunning concept: they cancelled a political primary. In the bricks-and-mortar world, a real political party cancelling its primary without so much as a public explanation would certainly lead to screaming headlines, street protests, legal actions, maybe even riots. But in the fantasy world which is Americans Elect, its shadowy denizens seemed hopeful that no one would notice.

We were reminded of the snarky news feature with which Americans Elect inaugurated its web site back in April of 2011: "At least six states are considering delaying or canceling their presidential primary elections, according to Reuters....If so, this could mean fewer voices will be heard in the vitally important process of determining Americans’ choices for president." A year ago, the shocking notion of cancelling primaries seemed to Americans Elect a threat to the very foundations of democracy itself. But a year later, when the party doing the canceling was AECorp itself? Mmm...not so much.

We broke this fascinating story late in the morning of May 1st here on the AE Transparency blog, and minutes later via Twitter. Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog and Jim Cook's Irregular Times were, as always, the first to take note. But as the hours ticked by (and our pageviews shot through the roof) AECorp remained officially silent. It was not until 4:30 that afternoon -- after 16 hours of official silence on the matter -- that AECorp finally published a single tiny notice, "Caucus Schedule Updated," craftily spinning the cancellation of the May 8 primary ballot with seeming nonchalance as a mere schedule conflict: "the first caucus scheduled for May 8th will now take place on May 15th." [UPDATE: AE has recently deleted this notice item from its web site, but it is still available from Bing's cache] With the appearance of this official confirmation more cautious news outlets began picking up the story, culminating in an Associated Press bulletin, and by the next morning the word "fail" was irreversibly welded on to the Americans Elect story:
Lost amid the frenzy of this long-overdue media pile-on, and entirely missed by the pundits, is the shocking legal basis empowering AECorp's puppet-masters to cancel the primary.

In its official notice it stated "According to our rules, since fewer than seven candidates have received enough support to qualify for the AE nomination, the first caucus scheduled for May 8th will now take place on May 15th." The casual reader can be forgiven for concluding from this that AECorp has a rule prescribing what happens if fewer than seven candidates receive enough support prior to the first primary ballot. But no such rule exists. Not in its  2012 Pre-election Convention Rules of Americans Elect®  (17 pages enshrining 87 rules), nor its 2012 Post-election Convention Rules of Americans Elect (4 pages, containing 21 rules), nor its AMENDED AND RESTATED BYLAWS OF AMERICANS ELECT®, or, as it is known by its closest friends, simply The Bylaws (22 ponderous pages of legalese comprising 78 separate rules). AECorp has a rule for every eventuality except the very one we saw coming more than two months ago: abject failure.

But never fear. What AECorp does have is what we here at AE Transparency like to call "The One Rule" -- the only rule it really needs. That would be Rule 4.1 of its Bylaws, which states: "the Board [of Directors of Americans Elect] shall reserve extraordinary authority and power to take or compel any action necessary to assure that the purpose of Americans Elect is not defeated by the acts or omissions of any persons or parties."

The power to take or compel any action. In other words, AECorp's shadowy, unelected, self-appointed-for-life Board of Directors, headed by Wall Street tycoon Peter Ackerman, is, by design, literally omnipotent: it can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants to. AECorp's other 185 rules are merely mumbo-jumbo, stage-dressing...the only rule that really matters is Rule 4.1: AECorp's Board can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. This was the legal basis for AECorp's cancellation of its first primary.

We and other AECorp critics have bemoaned Rule 4.1 since the corporation's founding, pointing out that an unelected board which jealously reserves to itself literally unlimited power is a tyranny, not a democratic institution. To which concern AE apologists have repeatedly replied, "well, you know, they'd never actually use that power....because they'd lose all credibility if they did." Well, they did. And they did.

Elsewhere we have proposed that AECorp's unelected Board could use this unlimited power to, for instance, appoint its own choice of nominee irrespective of the outcome of primary voting, or could even use this power to throw the November election to whichever conventional Party it wishes.

We are often asked why we are so doggedly critical of Americans Elect when it is only trying to help clean up the mess of modern American politics. Our answer is this: if the only alternative to our current dysfunctional political system is a monarchy -- and particularly a monarchy controlled by an ethically-challenged Wall Street billionaire -- then we'll take the current mess any day of the week, thanks anyway.


With the current round of support voting now 105% complete, the chart below summarizes where the candidates stand (click the chart to view a larger version):

Non-candidate Ron Paul (a so-called 'draft' candidate) continues to lead the pack, although he still has less than 50% of the vote total required to advance him to the next round. No other so-called 'draft' candidate (right panel, above) has even 20% of their required votes. Even more telling is the situation revealed by the left-hand panel, above: among actually declared AECorp candidates only one, ex-Democrat, ex-Republican Buddy Roemer, has a non-trivial number of support votes, thanks to his good old-fashioned big-money spending spree (though he still has less than a quarter of the total he needed four days ago to advance to the next round). When AECorp coyly stated that "fewer than seven candidates have received enough support to qualify"what it really meant was "no candidate is anywhere near qualifying."

To our minds, the most puzzling aspect of the ongoing debacle which is Americans Elect is this: as the chart above illustrates, the rates at which the candidates are accumulating support votes are so slow that even if this current round of voting was extended indefinitely no candidate could hope to qualify prior to the November election -- so what was AECorp owner/operator Peter Ackerman thinking when he impotently extended the voting period for merely another week? More on that topic next week.


  1. Although I like criticizing AE almost as much as the next person, I think it's important to acknowledge that AE did the absolutely correct thing this week, even if not necessarily for the correct reason.

    No candidates qualified for the May 8 primary -- we can agree on that. Therefore, did the board have any good choice other than to cancel the primary? They certainly would have been varying from the rules even more blatantly if they had attempted to put candidates into the primary on May 8.

    Nor is it clear to me that AE has actually "extended the voting period" for another week. The AE rules (Pre-Election Convention Rules 2.2.2 and 3.2.2) already provided that candidates who missed the deadline for the first primary could qualify for the second or third primary if they received the necessary number of support clicks by one week before the later primary.

    It may be that the board's intention this past week was to delay all three primaries by one week and thus delay the eligibility deadlines for all three of those primaries. However, it is not clear that this is what they did. They may have merely cancelled the May 8 primary and left the May 15 and 22 primaries on their original schedule.

    1. Although AECorp has not made a clear statement regarding its new plans for 'caucuses', its newly-revised 'Caucus' page ( makes its intentions clear. The old version of the page (May 1) showed 3 caucuses, on May 8, May 17 (a typo; they meant May 15), and May 22. The new page shows just 2 caucuses, on May 15 and May 22. So, indeed, they simply canceled the May 8 caucus.

  2. You know what they say about insanity, Joshua (doing the same thing over and over again...). AECorp's self-appointed Board of Directors had another choice: to admit that they have been incompetent and utterly tone-deaf leaders, and then to resign in favor of democratically elected directors.

    They're clearly not leading (not to good effect, anyway), and they're certainly not following, so they should just get out of the way. Americans Elect was a good idea, horribly botched by a billionaire who set himself in power, thus demonstrating that he believes democracy to be for "the little people" only. He thus sowed the seeds of AE's destruction at its very birth.

    With friends like Peter Ackerman, democracy doesn't need enemies. The Board should utilize its limitless "authority and power to take or compel any action" by organizing a free, fair election for new Directors, and then hand over the keys and go home.

    1. I can certainly see why the Board of Directors should be encouraged to resign. By the first week in February, it was obvious that the pace of support clicks was not fast enough to qualify enough people to have three rounds of primaries to qualify six candidates for the nominations round.

      The Rules Committee and the Board reacted by delaying the primary rounds from April to May, but that still wasn't going to enable candidates to qualify, as has been obvious for months now. I don't understand why they didn't change the rules to lower the click requirements a couple of months ago.

      As much as the board might just want to use Rule 4.1 to appoint a nominee, one of the main reasons many people were interested in AE in the first place was that they were going to select their nominee by an open process featuring an online primary. Replacing the open process with a board decision behind closed doors would be a lot less impressive.

  3. Excellent article. From the start, I've considered Americans Elect to be the same scam and failure it was when it was Unity08 for Election 2008 under the same people. I was shut out of Americans Elect, by the way, denied access to vote, to be a delegate, because I failed ID confirmation, even though I'm a registered voter with proper ID here in Cleveland County for Norman Oklahoma. I realized, after my second attempt, that the ID confirmation process is really a credit background check. After encountering others who were shut out, I concluded Americans Elect is shutting out people who may be perceived to be low income voters, because the upper class rich blue book social snobs running Americans Elect do not want the kind of candidates they believe low income voters will support. Shutting out legitimate voters is the main reason Americans Elect is a failure. I have reason to believe hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters have been shut out. Those who still support Americans Elect are living in denial within a fantasy world. Also, to note, Americans Elect did reply to my complaint when I was shut out. The reply was that they will be making it tougher to qualify to vote at each higher level of participation. So while some people qualified to vote at the start, via the ID confirmation - really a credit background check, they can be denied access to higher levels of participation and voting. So Americans Elect deliberately loses participants as it moves forward. It's not a democracy. It's an organization of control freaks with unrealistic excessive security to protect themselves.

    1. You raise an intriguing point, Jim. AE allows you to complete the "True Colors" survey before your identity is 'verified.' Thus, when one finally gets around to undergoing the verification process to qualify as a delegate, AE already has on hand a profile of your position on the political spectrum, plus your credit report. Is the verification failure problem which thousands have reported...and which shut members out of AE voting...really just due to incompetent system design, or is it a selection process which silently shows the door to would-be delegates who 'aren't our kind'?

      Thank goodness we answered the True Colors questions randomly. Statistically, this makes us appear as though we lack firmly-held convictions...what we guess some people mean by 'centrist'. And thank goodness for good FICO scores. If verification failure is actually a screening process, then this must be the combination AE is looking for in its kind of folk, since none of us here have encountered the widely reported verification problems.

      Paranoid? Sure. Reasons AE has given us to NOT be paranoid? None.

    2. When I took the "World's Smallest Political Quiz" [Google search that], I scored left of center but still within the Centrist square. As an experiment, I then reversed my answers and scored right of center but still within the Centrist square. That indicates two different people can be in total disagreement with each other and still average out to be centrist.

      I consider a Centrist to be a person who averages out to be in the political middle, by agreeing with Democrats on a number specific issues, and agreeing with Republicans on a near equal number of specific issues, like the results of that short 10-topic quiz.

      I beleive that is what divided the American Centrist Party. I was a member there 2 years ago. It merged with the Modern Whig Party, which then under new leadership shifted from centrist to far right in support of the Tea Party movement. I beleive they lost many members when that happened.

      I'm registered as an Independent voter. I beleive Americans Elect was a good idea, even better than their earlier version as Unity08, but created and managed by the wrong kind of people in the wrong way. I'd like to see something like Americans Elect created that will function the way it should. I beleive it is too late for 2012, but could be successful for 2016.

      It is bad that the bipartisan "moderates" are leaving US Congress now, because of the extreme partisan politics, when they are needed the most to fix the deadlock gap. A Gallop poll a few months ago showed 51% of Americans want a 3rd choice 3rd political party Independent candidate. The numbers needed for the middle to win was and perhaps still is there, but it hasn't been properly organized. Maybe the middle can't be organized because of opposing Centrists, some leaning left and some leaning right on specific issues.

      I like the Reform Party because it is nearest my position on issues, but it presently is a near dead political party.

      So it appears I'll again have to select the lesser of two evils in Election 2012, if it comes down to Obama or Romney as it likely will. I've not decided yet. Really I don't like either of them. If there is a third choice on the ballot here in Oklahoma, then my vote will likely go to the 3rd choice.

      If Americans Elect does get a candidate on any state ballot, then it will be in violation of the law if it still has not identified its presently secret donors. It claims it is not a political party, when in fact it has been forced to register as a political party in every state where it does have ballot access. Because of the kind of corp it is, it claims it does not have to identify donors, but has not filed the correct form with the IRS for that purpose, and can't do so if it is also registered as a political party in any state. I have reason to believe some of the secret donors are foreign businesses and governments seeking to influence US international trade and relating laws. If so, then Americans Elect could be guilty of treason against the US. This possibility, no matter how remote, is a good reason to force Americans Elect to identify all of its presently secret donors.

  4. Everybody place your bets. What will AE announce tomorrow (May 8)?
    (A) The May 15 primary is cancelled due to too few (meaning zero) candidates, but the May 22 primary is still on
    (B) A rules change that will allow at least one candidate to qualify for the primary
    (C) Something else
    (D) No announcement at all

    My guess would be A, but whatever the announcement is, I wouldn't expect it until mid-day.

    1. The day is over, and with no announcement from AE, that means that if you chose D, you were correct. Congratulations!

  5. Our Magic Eight-Ball is on vacation this week, Joshua, but if history is any guide then, whatever they decide to do, it will be a stunningly poor decision. Whenever AECorp's leaders feel a panicky need to go off-script the results are always good for a face-palm...or a laugh...or both.

    That, plus they have painted themselves into a corner on this one. There is no possible move here which doesn't make them look dumb, or sinister, or both.

    The only real question here is whether they will choose the worst bad move, or the best bad one. It's like watching an eight-year-old trying to play chess for the first time. Painful.

  6. Where is Elizabeth Warren on your Draft AE Candidates 'Support' Chart? Her absence hurts your credibility! I'm back here again based on the link and comments by Jim Cook. On my first visit, your write-up lacked a certain objectivity; however, I will reread it now.

    1. As of the date of this analysis (May 5), unofficial 'draft' candidate Elizabeth Warren ranked 26th overall, and 21st among draft candidates, with an insignificant 0.64% of her required support clicks. We have limited our analysis to just the top 10 draft and top 10 declared candidates, merely to render our analysis manageable in size. Warren's draft campaign is not realistically in the running at Americans Elect.

    2. Anonymous: To be clear, although Warren is in 12th place overall in terms of absolute numbers of clicks, she is classified as an "outsider" candidate and thus requires 5,000 clicks from 10 states to qualify for the AE primary.

      So, for example, although she is slightly ahead of Dennis Kucinich (who is considered an "insider" candidate) based on absolute numbers of clicks, she would need to have five times as many clicks as he does just to be tied with him based on their respective requirements.

      AE Transparency has been ranking the candidates according to their relative requirements, in order to reflect the fact that some candidates need to secure five times as many clicks as other candidates.


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