In 1984, I campaigned to be an elected alternate delegate (from Pennsylvania's Eighth Congressional District) to the Republican National Convention in Dallas. The process required that I get elector signatures for my name to appear on the ballot, solicit the party endorsement at numerous candidate screenings, and win an election at the ballot box.
The world has changed, and elections should change, too. Today, Americans earn college credits online, shop online, read news online, and view school grades online. The time has come to nominate presidential candidates online. One seemingly well-organized group agrees.
Last Sunday, Americans Elect was the beneficiary of attention lavished by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He reported that the group sought to nominate a credible third-party candidate to appear on the ballot in all 50 states next year, and that the nomination would be made entirely via the Internet.
Visitors to the website are asked to rank seven issues in order of personal importance (for me: the economy, foreign policy, energy, immigration, health care, education, and social issues) and answer seven more specific questions about those issues. Completing that exercise made me a delegate to the group's online convention planned for June.
According to the website, the effort is "open to any qualified candidate and any registered voter - no matter their party. We have no ties to any political group - left, right, or center. We don't promote any issues, ideology, or candidates. None of our funding comes from special interests or lobbyists. Our only goal is to put a directly nominated ticket on the ballot in 2012."
"What we're going to be doing is holding the first-ever nonpartisan, secure online nominating process," said Elliot Ackerman, Americans Elect's chief operating officer. "Any American voter can be a delegate to that process, and the ticket that comes out of the process is going to be on the ballot in all 50 states."
This opportunity might have particular appeal in closed-primary states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, where independents can't participate in the nomination process.
"We are looking to engage the American people in a process that is completely open and non-prescriptive," Ackerman told me.
The process he speaks of is well under way, as more than 1.75 million people have already become delegates at AmericansElect.org
What do these people have in common?
"The key delineation to make is that we're not a party. We're a process," Ackerman said. "We're more solution-based politics. We are trying to introduce some competition into the process to get us to those solutions."
Will the ticket those masses produce be able to navigate the labyrinth of state requirements to get on all 50 ballots? Will the presidential and vice presidential candidates be welcomed at debates? And which major party would benefit or lose voters? An early case can be made for this adding to the headaches of Barack Obama.
Consider that Americans Elect's recruits thus far rank the issues this way in importance: the economy, education, energy, health care, foreign policy, social issues, and immigration. That immigration is last is a giveaway that this is no conservative movement.
The answers to the accompanying questions are also illustrative of the left-of-center tendencies of the initial delegates. For example, on which solution they favor in response to the budget, the leading answer (46 percent) was "more tax increases than spending cuts (mix of both solutions)." Clearly this is a group at odds with the Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Another example: "When you think about America's energy needs, which of the following solutions come closest to your opinion?" Fifty-two percent of respondents said, "Strong investment in renewable energy like wind and solar."
And on health care, 50 percent agreed that the government "should have a major role in providing health-care insurance." Eighty percent said that "same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally, with all the same rights as traditional marriages." And 44 percent agreed that school curriculums "should be set more by national standards than at a local level."
So assuming people who hold these views nominate a like-minded ticket, then - regardless of whether you classify these opinions as left of center, center left, or even centrist - those who hold them were not preparing to vote for Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, or Michele Bachmann.
It's early. Word is just now getting out, and there are many hurdles ahead. But Americans Elect might be one more reason for the White House to be concerned about 2012.
Contact Michael Smerconish via www.smerconish.com. Read his columns at www.philly.com/smerconish