Americans Elect, a somewhat mysterious group that filed petitions last week to have its presidential candidate on the ballot in Arkansas, has been described as a "virtual third party," but its chief executive officer insists it's not a party at all. "Americans Elect is a second – and we believe better – option for nominating a presidential ticket," Kahlil Byrd says. "It's a way to find, nominate and elect our leaders using a platform that allows everyone to be included in the process."
If it succeeds in getting a third presidential candidate on the ballot nationwide, it might as well be a party, as far as the Democratic and Republican nominees are concerned. Even Americans Elect spokesmen admit they don't expect to elect their candidate in 2012 – they're hopeful for future elections – but a strong candidate could swing the election to one or the other of the major candidates, depending on who he takes votes from. That's happened before with third-party candidates.
Americans Elect plans to find and nominate a candidate through on-line voting, avoiding the political parties and their conventions. That may sound far-fetched, but no one knows yet how much the new technology can affect politics. Commentators say Americans Elect appears to be well funded, and expect that it will appeal to independent, middle-of-the-road voters not strongly attached to either of the big parties. Byrd, for example, is identified on the group's website as a former communications strategist for Democratic and Republican candidates. The organization itself has given no indication of the kind of candidate it hopes for. Presumably, the group could pick someone from one of the major parties who is not his party's nominee. It couldn't force anyone to run, of course.