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The death of a dubious idea

<p>Last summer, there were plenty of centrists who expressed genuine excitement about a project called Americans Elect, which its backers perceived as
The death of a dubious idea
The death of a dubious idea

Last summer, there were plenty of centrists who expressed genuine excitement about a project called Americans Elect, which its backers perceived as a vehicle towards bipartisan governing. Thomas Friedman, last summer, devoted a column to singing Americans Elect's praises, saying its organizers are "really serious, and they have thought out this process well."

As it turns out, that wasn't quite right.

Americans Elect, the deep-pocketed nonprofit group that set out to nominate a centrist third-party presidential ticket, admitted early Tuesday that its ballyhooed online nominating process had failed.The group had qualified for the general election ballot in 27 states, and had generated concern among Democrats and Republicans alike that it could wreak havoc on a close election between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.But just after a midnight deadline Monday, the group acknowledged that its complicated online nominating process had failed to generate sufficient interest to push any of the candidates who had declared an interest in its nomination over the threshold in its rules.

I never fully understood the appeal of this enterprise. Voters were supposed to gravitate towards Americans Elect out of a desire to see a presidential campaign committed to centrist, compromise-focused policymaking. Americans Elect did not, however, have a candidate. Or a platform. Or a policy agenda. Or even vague positions on any issue. It had money, a slot on 27 state ballots, and the admiration of some moderate-minded newspaper columnists, but nothing else.

So what, exactly, was the point? Apparently, the entity's organizers intended to hold an online convention, in which "the people" would nominate a ticket with two candidates: one from each party. What would be the value of this? No one ever got around to explaining that.

Real-world problems, however, kept getting in the way.

Credible candidates, for example, weren't interested. Americans Elect talked about bold, democratic principles, but it collected tens of millions of dollars in secret donations, then built a series of "anti-democratic measures" into Americans Elect's structure: "the power of a board to set aside (subject to a veto override from 'voters') the People's Choice in order to create a legitimately 'balanced, centrist' ticket, whatever that means."

When it came time for the convention, organizers found they were missing two rather important elements: candidates and voters.

And as of last night, the project appears to be a bust, which is heartening -- Americans Elect was an overly-secretive, well-financed gimmick, eager to play electoral mischief for reasons that were never clear.