National / News / February 15, 2012

Picking the president online

Amidst a polarized political arena, an organization called Americans Elect attempts to emerge as a nonpartisan, nonprofit group striving to provide people with the opportunity to directly nominate a third party candidate for president.

The Knox community is distinctly divided in awareness and support for Americans Elect, due in part to the newness of the group, which originated in the summer of 2011.

When asked if they understood the fundamental goals of Americans Elect and its importance in the upcoming presidential election, many Knox students voiced that they were uninformed about the group.

Junior Eva Marley said, “I would like to know more about what it involves and what sort of participants Americans Elect is looking for.”

Junior Sara Leverton said, “I would like to learn more about what the goals of Americans Elect are.”

The lack of familiarity with Americans Elect observed among Knox students may be attributed to their underexposure to the group in the classroom setting. Some professors choose to base their decision to not integrate discussion about Americans Elect into their curriculum on the potential for the group to attain significant long-term success.

Professor of Political Science Andrew Civettini said, “We talked about Americans Elect in my Political Parties class, but we may talk about it more if they get more valid access. Polls suggest that they may matter. The impact of Americans Elect is rather small. Third parties may matter if they are ideologically diverse, but if they are related to a Centrist Party,” or take equally from both parties, “all they do is take away from the winning percentage” but do not change the overall outcome of the election, he said.

Freshman Payton Rose, who is the campus leader for Americans Elect at Knox, openly expressed enthusiasm for Americans Elect.

“The basic idea behind Americans Elect is gaining awareness,” Rose said. “Young voters make up an important part of the electorate, and yet some are disenchanted or do not care about [the institution of voting].”

According to Rose, “Americans Elect seeks to hold its first online nonpartisan primary election in 2012. The goal is to get a nonpartisan ticket on the ballot in all 50 states for all registered voters. We want a moderate candidate who will work between the parties for bipartisanship.”

While Americans Elect operates on an online nominating process, Rose hopes to spread awareness about the group across Knox campus.

“I am the campus leader at Knox for Americans Elect,” he said.

“The Americans Elect College Team aims to get kids on college campuses involved” in the nonpartisan group so that individuals of college age can learn about their potential to make a difference through this new organization, Rose said.

Whereas students such as Rose reflect passion for political causes that lend meaning to Americans Elect, some members of the Knox community harbor skepticism about motives of the group’s major leaders and their ability to tackle goals exposed online. Civettini communicates the view that “Americans Elect is a group of very wealthy individuals who are testing the waters with their idea of having a third candidate on the ballot for a lot of states.”

Civettini is not confident that Americans Elect has the capacity to make a notable difference in the grander political arena.

“I don’t think Americans Elect will have any effect on the election. It is bankrolled by people who have control over a specific sector of the government,” he said.

 Civettini rooted his critique of Americans Elect in the dynamics of the electorate. He said, “The electorate, but not the behavior of the electorate, is becoming more independent. Some evidence suggests that partisans are becoming more, rather than less loyal in their voting patterns … Yes, the parties are more polarized, but the electorate has polarized with them, so people are going with the parties.” Maintenance of loyalty to a particular party renders Americans Elect less likely to gain widespread national support, he said.

“The media loves to focus on swing voters, but they are probably not the story … the story is more about partisan mobilization,” Civettini said. Supporters of Americans Elect such as Rose continue to follow biweekly chats among board members of the organization.

Rose follows Americans Elect activity because he perceives it as an important way for students to engage in the political process in an innovative manner.

“Our college age group is fit for it. We have seen so much political change that it is almost instilled in us that we can make a difference,” he said.

Elise Hyser

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