Americans Elect was founded with more than $1 million in seed money from its chairman, Peter Ackerman. Its goal, as stated in an online video: to give more people a voice in selecting the next president of the United States.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
“Instead of a lucky few, every voter counts,” the video says. “And instead of parties that fight each other, we're picking a president who will fight for our future."
The group — which will hold a panel discussion on its primary process and election goals tonight at 6 p.m. at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin — already has a place on the ballot in about 20 states. (Texas is not one of them.) Sarah Malm, a spokeswoman for Americans Elect, said the group will have a presence in all 50 states by this summer.
But, she added, don't call it a third party.
"This is a process,” Malm said. “We're going after the system, not creating a third party. We're creating a third pathway for leadership to run in this country."
The nomination process will take place entirely online at AmericansElect.org. A candidate will be selected in June.
It's a process the group believes will generate a populist candidate who won't pander to the fringes of the two parties and will engage younger voters.
"This is the way that they communicate, through social media, through digital channels,” Malm said. “And so part of Americans Elect is really embracing and harnessing the power of technology in order to bring the political process into the 21st century."
But be it party or process, third anything in a presidential race tends to finish ... in third place. Even the popular and well-financed bid of Texas businessman Ross Perot in 1992 received just 19 percent of the vote and no electoral votes.
So what's different this time?
"Certainly the internet makes third-party development plausible and maybe even the wave of the future," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Buchanan said the base of a third party often comes from disgruntled members of either traditional party, bringing those parties back toward the middle of the political spectrum.
Buchanan said that scenario could play out in the 2012 election. Consider the Tea Party's effect on the GOP primaries. But since this movement appears to be process- and technology-based, it could have more staying power.
“The wave of the future is the technology that allows people to be directly engaged in a nomination,” Buchanan said. “The internet method of mobilizing voters and nomination programs, I think, can be influential down the road — depending on how it flies here in its first iteration."
The group hopes to win in November but acknowledges that its other goal is creating a place for future candidates to run.