Group desires to create three-person presidential race

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Photo Credit: Raveena Bhalara | Daily Texan Staff

Due to a reporting error in a March 1 article about a forum discussing the two-party election system, the name Koch was mispelled as “Coke”.

Tapping into voter frustration about special interests and the two party election system, third party voting group Americans Elect made its campaign stop Wednesday night at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Americans Elect CEO Kahlil Byrd and Mark McKinnon of Hill+Knowlton Strategies spoke on behalf of the group, which seeks to create a national online primary and allow its candidate to have access to ballots in all 50 states in time for the November election. The organization wants to create a three-way race that will allow its candidate to bypass primaries and effectively compete with the Republican and Democratic national parties, Byrd said.

“At a time when special interests and the radical wings of two parties dominate the stage, we find that millions of people are looking to have another choice,” Byrd said. “Americans want new leadership on the presidential ticket in 2012.”

Americans Elect also hopes to fulfill the role of center that has been crumbling under assault from a hyperpolarizing political atmosphere. Given the flight of moderates such as Olympia Snowe and Joe Lieberman from Congress, Americans Elect hopes to offer independents a greater degree of choice, Byrd said.

“When you look through the recent popularity booms in the Republican primaries, we see that the ability of Americans to absorb a new candidate is pretty high,” Byrd said. “People continue to look for another candidate, and they hunger for candidates that put forth ideas that matter.”

A panel of Austinites questioned Byrd and McKinnon. They consisted of government professor Bruce Buchanan and Talia Stroud, assistant director to the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation Communication Studies, as well as Texas Tribune editor-in-chief Evan Smith. Smith said the group was not disclosing who its donors were, which is a lack of transparency.

“You talk about the crippling influence of money, but how are you any different when we don’t know who you are receiving money from,” Smith said. “If I were the Koch brothers and I decided that I’m trying to defeat Obama, and that Romney isn’t the guy to do it, why not invest in a third party to pull votes away from his candidacy.”

Smith also praised the organization for trying to expand direct democracy, but said that the ultimate goals of Americans Elect were confusing.

“If your goal is to remove barriers to ballot access, why not raise the money to change the laws,” Smith said. “Why have three parties when you could have four or five?”

Americans Elect has recently succeeded in obtaining the ballot in California, a significant victory, and raised around $30 million for its ballot buying campaign. Its non-disclosure policy will remain in place to protect candidates from donor influence, McKinnon said, and the organization hopes to have narrowed its current 350 candidates to six by the mid-summer election season.”