AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine is now one of a growing list of states that could feature a third-party presidential candidate on the November 2012 ballot.
Americans Elect is a national nonprofit organization that is trying to change the way presidential elections are held, particularly when it comes to picking candidates.
The group has been gathering signatures since last year to ensure a place on the ballot in as many states as possible come November. Last week, Maine’s Secretary of State Charlie Summers certified the signatures for Maine.
But who will this third-party option be to challenge President Barack Obama, the incumbent Democrat, and the winner of a now four-way Republican primary?
Former Maine gubernatorial candidate Eliot Culter, who is a member of the Americans Elect board of directors, addressed that question and others at an announcement Monday in Augusta.
“You can’t start with a candidate and build a movement around them,” Cutler said Monday from the State House visitors center. “Moreover, there is a reasonable argument to be made that people’s decision about who they want to run is a decision better made once they know who their other choices are.”
Maine is the 15th state to certify Americans Elect’s signatures, but Cutler said the goal is to be on the ballot in every state.
“We’re basically keeping up with the calendar. States have different deadlines for ballot access,” he explained.
Cutler said getting the signatures was no easy feat because they had to come from unenrolled voters.
“We were able to collect those signatures in a fairly short time and I think the fact that we’ve been able to do so demonstrates two things: one is that the people of Maine, like people all across America, want more choice in the presidential and vice presidential election, and secondly, they want to participate in the process in ways that are not now possible,” he said.
A similar initiative was launched four years ago called Unity 08 that sought to pair a Republican presidential candidate with a Democratic vice president or vice versa. Former Maine Gov. Angus King was among those who supported the idea.
Americans Elect grew out of the Unity 08 concept, Cutler said, but added that the previous attempt was flawed because it failed to address the issue of ballot access.
Cutler said he thinks there are a growing number of disenfranchised Americans looking for other political options. He pointed out that the number of people who signed the Americans Elect initiative in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, for instance, has matched participation in those state’s GOP primaries or caucuses.
Still, it’s hard for anyone to rally behind a nominee until there’s a nominee, although that problem will be put to rest soon, according to Cutler.
Later this year, likely by April, Americans Elect will hold an online convention during which delegates will nominate a president and vice president. The only rule is that the ticket include either one Republican and one Democrat or at least one unenrolled candidate.
“You’ll start seeing names in a few weeks when the ‘primary’ process opens up,” Cutler predicted, although he quickly added that he will not be one of those names.
There has been some criticism of Americans Elect, particularly around its funding. Because it’s a registered 501 C4, the nonprofit group is not required to disclose its donors.
Another federal group, Democracy 21, recently challenged American Elect’s nonprofit status with the Federal Elections Commission.
Cutler addressed that concern on Monday.
“If this was money to support a candidate or issue, I would be concerned,” he said. “In this case, money is being used to support a reform in the process.”
Cutler also said the only way some people agreed to contribute was anonymously because they “were afraid of retribution by either the Democrat or Republican party.”
Once a nominee is chosen from the Americans Elect process, that candidate would be subject to the same financial disclosure laws as any major party candidate.