Third-party presidential candidates have come and gone in Wyoming over the years.
But for the 2012 election, a new group is working to not only run a viable, centrist, third-party presidential candidate, but to change the way presidential candidates are nominated.
Americans Elect, a Washington, D.C.-based group, is looking to get voters across the country to use the Internet to nominate and vote on a bipartisan presidential ticket.
The group has already raised $30 million, and supporters are working to get on the ballot in all 50 states, said Kellen Arno, the group’s national field director. Americans Elect has gotten on the ballot in eight states and is awaiting certification in four more, Arno said, though Wyoming isn’t yet among them.
The idea, Arno said, is that any registered voter in the country can go to the group’s website, americanselect.org, to register as a “delegate” and browse candidates of all political stripes, from nationally known political figures to ordinary citizens. They can even start a draft movement for a person they’d like to see in the Oval Office.
In April, delegates will vote online on six finalists, who — if they want to run — will have to select a running mate from outside their own party. Finally, in June, the group will hold a Web-only convention to pick the group’s presidential ticket.
While anyone can register as a delegate right now, Arno said, candidates won’t start appearing on the website until next month.
The group seems to be looking for socially liberal, fiscally conservative candidates, which Arno said reflects the political thinking of the majority of Americans today.
But Americans Elect’s main goal isn’t so much to elect a president, Arno said, as is to revolutionize how presidential candidates are chosen.
Under the current system of primaries and caucuses, he said, Republican and Democratic voters in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire get a disproportionate say in who their party’s nominee will be. The current system also encourages candidates to play to their party’s partisan base, he said.
Americans Elect, Arno said, hopes to show that a nationwide online presidential primary is not only feasible, but it reduces partisanship and allows all Americans to become more active in the process.
“People are frustrated,” Arno said. “I think what they’re doing is taking a step back and looking at the system and saying, ‘Is there a better way?’ I think that’s what inherently Americans Elect is doing.”
Americans Elect isn’t intended to be a political party, Arno said, but rather a nonpartisan group that simply helps voters to pick a party-neutral presidential candidate and get him or her on the ballot across the country.
Once a presidential ticket is chosen, he said, they’ll be on their own — Americans Elect is prohibited from directly helping them financially or in any other way. And the group isn’t planning to nominate candidates for any other office except president, he said.
The group has no plans for what it will do beyond 2012, Arno said.
To get on the 2012 ballot in Wyoming, Americans Elect will have to collect petition signatures from 3,740 registered voters in the state.
So far, there’s no organized statewide effort to collect those signatures, though several state residents say they plan to get involved.
Anne Alexander, director of international programs at the University of Wyoming, said with Wyoming’s sparse, scattered population, it’s more difficult to publicize the group and get people involved.
But Alexander, a registered Republican, said she believes Wyoming will be fertile ground for Americans Elect, given the state’s traditionally libertarian streak.
“I don’t want somebody telling me who my candidate should be — I want to choose who they are,” Alexander said. “And I want to find the person who has the best match with my beliefs and philosophies. I think Wyoming is exactly the kind of place where you’d see that attitude Americans Elect represents.”
Steve Duerr, a Jackson attorney who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2004 as a Republican, is also interested in Americans Elect. He said there could be support for the group, given voters’ frustration with the partisan gridlock in Washington this year over issues such as the mounting national debt.
“It’s really exciting, what they’re doing — to think that you could have basically a third party, but it’s all electronic,” Duerr said. “That’s amazing. I mean, it’s time for this.”
University of Wyoming political science professor Jim King agreed that voter discontent could help Americans Elect gain support in Wyoming. But King added that, at least in next year’s elections, the movement will likely make little difference in the Republican-dominated state.
“If there’s a particular level of discontent with the Republican [presidential] nominee, then they’ll gain some votes as people looking for an alternative,” King said. “But it’s certainly not likely to change the outcome of the presidential election in the state.”