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Internet Political Movement Pushes Ahead To Nominate Candidates

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Before long, the Democratic Party will name Barack Obama as its nominee for president. The Republicans are still trying to pick their candidate through primary elections. But some Internet-savvy idealists hope to give Americans a third choice in November. Their nominating convention will be done entirely online. Crazy as it sounds, the effort is gaining legitimacy. The idea was discussed during a forum at Winthrop University. "It's hard trust anyone anymore." "I just plug my nose when I vote." We hear such comments all the time, from Democrats and Republicans. Many people don't feel represented in the current system of choosing candidates through primaries, caucuses and conventions. A recent Gallup poll shows a record number of Americans are unhappy with the way we are governed. And that's the number Brian Findlay cites in explaining why a new group called Americans Elect might actually make a difference. "The time is right. There's a vacuum. There's an appetite for this and we're going to give America a third choice," he says. Findlay is in charge of policy for Americans Elect. Yes, we've seen third party candidates before - think Ross Perot in the early 90s. But to get on a state ballot, a third-party candidate usually must collect thousands of signatures. That's where Americans Elect comes in. It's not a political party or a political action committee. It has no platform of issues, says Findlay. "We're a tool. We're creating a tool the American people can use to give ballot access to a third choice." What that mainly means is collecting signatures. "We're taking away this logistical hurdle," Findlay says. "There is going to be an Americans Elect nominee on every ballot." Findlay says Americans Elect has already collected enough signatures to have a candidate on the ballot in roughly 25 states, including North and South Carolina. But whose name will be on the ballot? That will be decided through an online vote in June. Before then, anyone can submit his or her name - or nominate someone else. And they can do whatever they want to round up support from people on AmericansElect.org, says Findlay. "Everyone who's going to be on the ballot has to have at least 10,000 support clicks." A "support click" is similar to a Facebook "Like." "The same person can't go to one candidate and keep clicking support, support, support," Findlay says, "But you can go to multiple candidates and support as many as you like. " When it's time for the Americans Elect convention in June, Findlay says the candidates with the most supporters will be vetted to make sure they're eligible to run for president. There will be a period of time when voting is open online. From there, the candidate who gets the most votes wins the nomination. Right now, Ron Paul has the most "support clicks." Of course, he's already seeking the Republican nomination. Next is Jon Hunstman - who dropped out of the Republican race. President Obama and comedian Stephen Colbert are up there too. There's the possibility that Americans Elect will go to all this trouble only to nominate an already established Republican or Democrat. Fine, says Findlay, but "they're going to have to do something that no one has ever done before. They're going to have to reach across the aisle, pick someone from a different party to be their running mate. And that's unique." Winthrop police science professor Adolphus Belk attended Thursday's forum. Americans Elect intrigues him, "but I have concerns about the security portion of the online forum." Findlay says anyone who votes in the Americans Elect primary will have to verify their identity and current voter registration. The group's technology is being overseen by the guy who helped make stock trading safe online at E-Trade. All told, Findlay says Americans Elect will spend about $30 million putting a candidate forward. Donations are being collected online. Findlay says the group won't disclose its donors and doesn't have to as a regular nonprofit. He says donations go toward ballot access and technology, not any of the campaigns. The candidate that wins the group's online convention in June will be on his or her own to compete with the Democratic and Republican nominees in November. It's a tall order says Winthrop political scientist Karen Kedrowski: "To win the White House - I think that's a very remote chance," she says. But the third parties and Independent movements like Americans Elect can help shape the political debate, Kedrowski says. For Americans Elect, the message is simple. Let's pick presidents, not political parties.