The 2012 presidential election is over a year away, and tensions are already running high.A recent Gallup poll shows President Obama’s approval ratings to be the lowest in his entire presidency. The race for the Republican nominee has yet to produce a frontrunner. And Occupy Wall Street has joined the Tea Party in voicing anger and frustration toward the White House and Congress, both of which seem bent on internal conflict instead of legislative progress.
But Zuccotti Park isn’t the only place where frustrated citizens are envisioning a different kind of American politics. New online spaces are employing technology to plot solutions for some of the troublesome aspects of American elections. Two of these, Votocracy and AmericansElect, are mimicking demands of Occupy protesters all over the nation: the current system needs reform and politicians need to be more attentive to their constituents’ needs and desires.
AmericansElect, a nonpartisan website, wants to nominate a president that answers “directly to voters – not the political system.” The site’s founders were dissatisfied with the two-party system’s limited options. “Right now we have four choices and not a single vote has been cast,” Eliot Ackerman, AmericansElect’s COO, told Dowser. In June 2012, AmericansElect will host an online, nonpartisan presidential convention to create another option –one, they hope, more representative of Americans’ concerns – for voters in November. Each person registered on the site will count as a delegate with a vote in June.
The US’s indirect voting system is one of the problems AmericansElect intends to address. As Ackerman recently wrote: “Ironically, the founders created the Electoral College because they thought it would be more democratic. Under this system, Americans don’t vote for the president directly. Instead we vote for electors, who then vote for the president. All states get at least three electoral votes, no matter how few residents they have.” The result of this system, he explains, is “a lopsided process that on four occasions has resulted in a president who did not get the most popular votes.”
In order for the winner of AmericansElect’s convention to be on the ballot next fall, the organization has a team of volunteers and staff getting signatures from all fifty states. They currently have 1.9 million of the 2.9 million necessary signatures, Ackerman told Dowser.
An important feature on AmericansElect is a survey that all site users take, which gauges individuals’ political views. Ackerman said that the survey shows that most people don’t fall neatly into either Democrat or Republican ideological camps. “It’s interesting to know that you might have political views that work with a candidate you wouldn’t have expected,” said Ackerkman. Some of the site’s delegates, for example, match equally to Jon Huntsman as to Barack Obama.
AmericansElect’s users are not only young, tech-savvy people, Ackerman said. In fact, the largest demographic on the site consists of people between the ages of 45 and 60. “Those are the people who have seen cycle after cycle – like a slot machine in Vegas – all the permutations of the electoral system,” said Ackerman, “and nothing changes from hyper-partisanship, which is really causing our political system to fail due to atrophy. These people are the ones who know that the change we need isn’t a new person, it’s a new way.”
Another website with similar intentions is Votocracy. Unlike AmericansElect, Votocracy does not propose that it will actually nominate candidates to the ballot. Instead, it uses social media to create a conversation around democracy and political issues. The site lets users run their own mini-campaigns. You can take part in daily polls, raise funds, recruit volunteers, and more. Whatever you do, you can share on Facebook or other social media, so as to attract more people to the conversation. If you want to become a candidate on the site, you pay a $99 sign-up fee, and people can show their support for your platform by “liking” your Votocracy page, as Mashable explained. By 2012, there will be one official Votocracy candidate. The project isn’t meant to get that candidate on the ballot, but to create conversation around the democratic process.