Streams

Opinion: Don't Like Our Political System? Let's Bypass it

Monday, August 15, 2011 - 11:43 AM

It seems like every other day we see another new poll asking something related to whether the American people trust the government anymore. With the exception of a shrinking minority of people whose faith in government apparently rests on something less substantial than their track record over the last several years, we're seeing 70 and 80 percent uber-majorities saying they don't trust the Democrats and Republicans in Washington to run our country any more.

The latest polls to illustrate this point came from Rasmussen and the Washington Post. The latter finds that fully 78 percent of those polled are dissatisfied with our country's political system (more than half of those "very dissatisfied"), and 71 percent agree with S&P's assessment that our country's political system "has become weaker and government policies have become less stable, less effective and less predictable.” Seventy one percent also think the federal government is focused on the wrong things, 73 percent aren't confident that our government can solve our economic problems and 78 percent are dissatisfied with "the way this country's political system is working".

The headliner from Rasmussen is even more damning. It shows that only 17 percent, a new low among a mountain of new lows, think our government "has the consent of the governed". Is there anything that could be worse to say about a government in a country that fancies itself a democracy?

This question lies at the heart of the idea behind a new organization called Americans Elect. I talked to a few of their staff members last week and found the thinking behind their organization to be a breath of fresh air, and something that seems to spring right out of the discontent expressed in the polling numbers above.

Americans Elect has two very specific goals. They're going to get ballot qualified in all 50 states, and then put together an online system where millions of Americans can directly decide who will be on that ticket. What better way to improve upon a system that people no longer trust than to build a platform that totally bypasses it?

When I asked him for a wide angle take on what their organization is up to, the COO, Elliot Ackerman, said something that stuck in my head. He said "Everything with us is about participation." He went on to say that the major innovation of Americans Elect is really just the system they are setting up that puts almost all of the power into hands of delegates, the people who sign up on their website. Anyone can join, regardless of political affiliation, or lack thereof, and it is the delegates who will be given the power to collectively decide what questions candidates will have to answer if they wish to be considered for the nomination, to be decided at an online convention next June.

I liked just about everything I was told by the three staff members I talked to, with the exception of the topic of their legal status. I understand their position on forming as a Super PAC so as to not be confused as a political party, which would have been the case had they gone with a 527, but this does not give them an excuse to not be transparent with their funding. Ackerman rightly responded on this issue by saying that ultimately what matters is what an organization does, and this is true, but to really take the high ground, they could voluntarily open their books.

This doubt will rightfully dog their organization for at least a while, but if they follow through and make this all about the will of the delegates, that really is what matters the most.

As of my conversation with Ackerman, Americans Elect is currently ballot qualified in Kansas, Missouri, Alaska and Arizona, and awaiting approval in California, Hawaii and Michigan. They'll be moving on to other states, and at the end of the month, they'll be adding more functionality to the site, delegates will start talking about issues and candidates using their system, and we'll start to see how this concept plays out in the wilds of American politics.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.

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