How Americans Elect Thinks It Can Change The Way We Vote

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Khalil Byrd, CEO of Americans Elect, talked about the campaign to nominate a presidential candidate outside the political party system.

What is Americans Elect?

Launched in July of this year, Americans Elect is a website dedicated to running the first-ever non-partisan online convention for president. Voters sign up to the site (founder Khalil Byrd says everyone's voter registration status will be checked), rate the issues that are important to them, and eventually nominate and select a candidate for the 2012 election.

Sounds like a nice idea, but it is not without controversy. More on that later.

Byrd touts the project as the opportunity for a candidate to "stand up and run authentically." They can be a Democrat or a Republican, or an Independent, or whatever; they can come from any background that the electorate will bear; they need not be party favorites—in fact, that's kind of the point. Any Americans Elect voter can sign up to be a delegate for the convention, which is supposed to give political outsiders a chance to have the kind of influence on a nominating process usually reserved for party insiders.

Byrd says it's all about putting the process back in the hands of the people, rather than parties.

First, delegates get to shape the rules of engagement; unlike the two-party system, the people actually get an opportunity to shape what this process looks like. Second, the American people get the opportunity to shape the issues that candidates deal with. Third, delegates have the opportunity to either draft or select candidates to come online.

How it works and who might run

Beginning in mid-December, Americans Elect will roll out their nominees. In April of 2012, the convention process begins, during which the field of candidates will narrow to six. The final six will then have to choose a vice presidential running mate from a different party—the "first act of courage," Byrd says.

Who might the nominees be? Byrd's playing those cards close to his chest, citing privacy concerns, but gave a broad idea of the kind of people Americans Elect delegates were looking at.

We're looking at current and former governors and senators; people who've run large cities, large businesses, large foundations, universities; people who have had major military commands; people who have the kind of leadership qualities and backgrounds that the American people respect.

Funding controversy

Americans Elect calls itself transparent and posts its tax information on its website, but there's one piece of the puzzle that's conspicuously absent from an organization that claims independence from and invulnerability to entrenched (and moneyed) political interests: a list of donors. (Our own Anna Sale reported on this earlier in the year.)

Who supports Americans Elect? One caller asked about the small number of donors who've contributed $20 million to the program, but whose identities remain undisclosed. Khalil Byrd noted that there was a process by which donors could "emerge" on the site, but at their own discretion. He said that withholding this information from the start was important to protecting the safety of donors.

We are in a tough political environment, and in that tough political environment, the idea of retribution is real. Whether you've given $100 or much more than that, people need to be able to emerge to support a process like this—which is disruptive—at their own pace, and we acknowledge that need and respect it.

Stalking horse for the GOP?

Some skeptics worry that the site is disingenuous, that the process is aimed at being "disruptive" to one candidacy in particular. One e-mailer worried that Americans Elect would functionally act as a stalking horse for the Republican party: by nominating another moderate candidate to compete against Barack Obama, the moderate vote could be split and the road to victory made easier for the GOP nominee.

Byrd responded that Barack Obama need not run against an Americans Elect candidate; he could be the Americans Elect candidate.

The president could actually run on the Americans Elect line and the Democratic line at the same time; all he would have to do is select a vice presidential candidate from a different party and basically go back and sell that to the Democratic party.

To which Brian Lehrer said, "Come on."


Khalil Byrd

Comments [31]


Forget all this talk about who's behind Americans Elect. It's very simple --when you look at the 2012 ballot and scan the Americans Elect line and see the name of its candidate, you either vote for that person -- or you don't. You make the choice, but chances are the candidate will appeal to disgusted Democrats and Republicans, independents, formerly undecideds, centrists, moderates, liberals. In total, that could be a powerful voting bloc. If you sign on (for free) as an Americans Elect delegate, you nominate the candidate of your choice. If the designated Americans Elect candidate is someone you don't like, well, fine. Don't vote for that individual. But -- you might be pleased to see the name of a person who you would definitely like to see in the White House. For information visit, sign on as a Delegate, perhaps make a donation. If you're not happy with politics as practiced in Washington today, consider Americans Elect.

Dec. 25 2011 11:17 AM
9% support but 85 % reelection - Why ? from Gerrymandering controls Congress

So Congress has a 9 % approval rating.
But for some reason, the vast majority of
them will get reelected anyway.

In 2010, 85 % of the house seats and
84 % of the senate seats were won by
incumbents. (And this was considered
a "revolution" in Congress!).

Why does this happen ?

Answer :

Gerrymandering controls Congress

With clever gerrymandering, a minority
of the population can win a supermajority
of the legislature.

This is, of course, the antithesis of democracy.

We need to find a better way to prevent
gerrymandering and to allow for fair democratic Congressional elections.

Nov. 29 2011 06:01 PM
Redistricting controls outcomes from Which finance-funded pol eliminated Barney Frank ?

Who redistricted Barney Frank's seat ?
More importantly, WHY ?
Did they get large campaign donations, favors or overpaid jobs from Big-Finance ?

Big Finance hated Barney Frank, just like
they hated Dodd. Now they eliminated both from politics. I guess the mega-bucks
finance lobby always gets its mark.
(More than can be said for the S.E.C. sadly, who will gladly let billionaire thieves off the hook and grant them future immunity if they agree to give back some small token portion of what they stole).

Brian Lehrer, please look into this!

WHO redistricted Barney Frank's seat to
now include lots of conservatives, and WHY.

Bottom line : Redistricting controlled election outcomes.

Nov. 29 2011 05:54 PM
JSOC from Manhattan

I just signed up for it (under my real name, not my screen alias). There are a bunch of multiple-choice survey questions Americans Elect asks you to answer. Most of my opinions were in the majority or plurality, and most of them were pretty liberal socially and economically. So if AE is a stalking horse for the GOP, its constituents, at least those who have answered the survey, look pretty much like Democrats. But I agree with Brian Lehrer - come on, a VP candidate from the other party? I can see Obama doing it once in hundred years, and the GOP doing it once in a million. Cabinet positions, fair enough.

Nov. 29 2011 04:49 PM
Joe B from Brooklyn

Republican stalking horse indeed. This concept sounds incredibly targeted toward the incumbent (Obama) and reminds me of a James O'Keefe tactic 2.0.

Also, the guest's dispirited tone doesn't exactly come across as someone passionate about the vox populi. Rather, he sound's like someone who knows he's up to some mischief.

Nov. 29 2011 03:25 PM
real nyer from NYC

The Brian Lehrer Show is usually excellent and fair, but this was a disappointing segment, simply giving Khalil Byrd an unearned platform to promote his shadowy organization, without enough time to ask him and demand real answers to probing questions about what his organization really is. Too many respected people have questioned this organization. You did not do your listeners justice, just gave a secretive, marginal organization legitimacy. A waste of airtime - actually, destructive of the public interest.

Nov. 29 2011 11:09 AM
Nick from UWS

A man purporting to be on a mission to change the American political system who cannot directly answer a simple direct question from one human being. An audience of thinking people is not appropriate for Khalil "P.T. Barnum" Byrd here.

Nov. 29 2011 11:08 AM
Jeffrey from NJ

After listening to Mr. Byrd, every SCAM alarm in my body went off. This sounds like a wonderful idea in a perfect world. But the secrecy behind the backers ("let them emerge at their own pace") makes me completely dubious about the true purpose of this organization (see my previous comment).

Nov. 29 2011 11:03 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

"Doesn't have an ideology"?
Everything he said during this segment was nothing but ideology.

Having an "independent" or "moderate" view is an ideology as well, hate to break it to you.

This sounds like another "independent" i.e. right-wing group trying to pretend they aren't just that.

Also, the fact that they are not transparent about the money makes it HIGHLY suspect.

Nov. 29 2011 11:00 AM
Michael from manhattan

"large contributions classified as loans" ...mmhmm. I'll assume Koch Brothers and/or Charles Schwab until you prove otherwise, Mr. Byrd. And thanks for dodging the funding question. You're more of the same in a very "authentic" way! I'll pass, thanks.

Nov. 29 2011 10:58 AM
Mildred Ehrlich from NYC

He keeps saying this party will address "the issues that are important to the American people," but never states specific issues. Also, with two people as running mates from different parties, how do they plan to avoid the gridlock that is currently occuring in the Senate? Also, having a third party running, won't it be the case of a spoiler like Ralph Nader taking votes away from someone?

Nov. 29 2011 10:57 AM
Jeremy from Brooklyn

What is this man's salary?

He just sounded fishy from the beginning.

Nov. 29 2011 10:57 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Sounds like another scam. Americans are so easily fooled. No number nor amount of laws or regulations can protect people from their own stupidity. A fool and his money will always be parted by the clever who spend their nights thinking up ways of doing so.

There is no way to protect the stupid from harming themselves.

Nov. 29 2011 10:57 AM
Nick from UWS

That's not what the caller asked you.

He asked you WHO... do you understand the word WHO?...are the high amount donors to your organization and what are their politics?


Nov. 29 2011 10:55 AM
Nicole from NJ

I could never take this seriously. What about people who are not tech savvy or lack regular access to the internet? I know it's hard to imagine that everyone doesn't own a ipad or get their news from the internet, so this is still not a more authentic form of direct democracy. Further more options are not needed, but more civic engagement and public accountability.

Nov. 29 2011 10:55 AM
real nyer from NYC

Please ask Mr. Byrd about whether the "candidate" "nominated" by his organization's "voters" will be the one they put up, or, if has been reported, their bylaws allow the "board" to overrule the "vote" and pick their own candidate? Also, how do they guarantee the security of their online vote?

And what are their politics? Very vague - they say they are upset with "far left" and "far right" parties and want someone in the "center." What is the "far left" party - the Democrats? Seems to me they are pretty middle of the road, and moving farther right. The only people that claim the Democrats are "far left" are Republicans, who want to (successfully so far) keep moving the conversation and the parties and the voters farther right still. So I'd assume this group is pretty right-wing. Some research seems to indicate that all of the people involved - if you can figure out who they are - are Republicans.

See, for example, this informative article by election expert Richard Hasen: A simple google search for "Americans Elect" will turn up much more questionable information about them.

There is so much that is vague and questionable about this group. They need to answer many more questions.

Nov. 29 2011 10:54 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Some of this sounds interesting, but I'm skeptical any time someone talking about any aspect of politics says it's simple.

Nov. 29 2011 10:53 AM
Susan from Morningside Hts.

How is this group different from the "No Labels" group? Who all is funding them?

Nov. 29 2011 10:53 AM
dan pupke from maplewood, nj

as a person who has voted for nader the last 4 election cycles i am actively seeking a candidate outside the party system. i took the questionaire (at least 200 questions anyway). One problem is the questioins are all mutiple choice and dont give enough nuanced answers so like a presidential election, you end up picking the least bad answer. ditto for the 'candidate's profiles, where they have to make the same multimple choice selections to complicated issues.
i support their goals.
however i went through about 10 pages of proposed candidates and the only person not currently sitting in office was herman cain, so the choices seem to be just more politicians.

Nov. 29 2011 10:53 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

So you can have 2 candidates that are right wing nutbags claiming they are "Independents" running with each other

Nov. 29 2011 10:53 AM
andy_nyc from NYC

This seems to me to be a misguided initiative. I think AE should focus on the following:
1) Proportional allocation of Electoral College Votes
2) Open Primaries
3) Non partisan redistricting
This would allow for the creation of a viable third party option. Harder to implement but more effective in the long run.

Nov. 29 2011 10:52 AM
Jeffrey from Maplewood, NJ

Who is financing this movement? I've heard that Big Wall Street money is behind this. How are we to know that this is not a "front" for conservative backers trying to divert voters who would support Obama, thereby acting as a spoiler in the 2012 election?

Nov. 29 2011 10:52 AM
Claudia from Teaneck

Please ask Mr. Byrd to promise that his organization will protect the privacy of participants ... that they will not sell, rent, or otherwise distribute individual information about who participates or how s/he cast votes.

Also please ask him why he overuses the word "authentic" in his spiel.

Thank you.

Nov. 29 2011 10:51 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Anything that can chip away at the two-party dictatorship is good to me.

Nov. 29 2011 10:50 AM

I think you are going in the right direction. I wish you the best of luck. QUESTION = What is your biggest hurdle to success ?

Nov. 29 2011 10:49 AM
George Showman from Brooklyn

To clarify - I don't really care if (and, in fact, expect that) this is an organization put together by a few very rich friends who are trying to undermine the (insane) two-party system. I just want to see how the support works.

Nov. 29 2011 10:45 AM
Sarah from LES

How are we supposed to take any of this seriously when the Electoral College is in place? It is impossible for a 3rd candidate to win with the Electoral College.

Nov. 29 2011 10:45 AM
Edward from NJ

It's on the internet. So I'm just going to guess the result: "Ron Paul 2012"

Nov. 29 2011 10:44 AM
George Showman from Brooklyn

AE seems exciting, but they should really be transparent about their funding. From a quick scan of their website, it seems - financing-wise - to be just another opaque lobbying organization.

Nov. 29 2011 10:42 AM

i'd like to auction off the office of president to the highest bidder.
That way I wouldn’t have to watch campaign ads and the deficit would be paid off

Nov. 29 2011 10:14 AM
bernie from bklyn

can mr.byrd tell us what his salary is as CEO of this new organization?
anyone go the website? sounds jive to another wasted segment on the BL show. this makes yesterday's segment about the people reading their google search results about pepper spray sound exciting!
BUT i hope i'm wrong...

Nov. 29 2011 10:10 AM

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