AUSTIN, Texas - A donkey and elephant in tow, Americans Elect showed up at the annual South by Southwest conference to promote its plan for the first national online presidential primary. The donkey and elephant mascots sparred in the conference halls to highlight what Americans Elect sees as the conflicts between Democrats and Republicans.
"The current candidates are good people who are trapped in a system that is making them say and do things that are not inspiring to American citizens," said Kahlil Byrd, CEO of Americans Elect, a successor to the 2008 group Unity08. "The issues are chosen for you, and the more contentious,the better."
Under the system, registered voters can sign up to nominate candidates to run separately from the two main political parties. Americans Elect has been criticized for not disclosing who its donors are, but organizers say 400,000 people have signed on to vote and the effort has caught the eye of the Obama campaign.
"Why should the primaries and the media define who we get to vote for?" asked Americans Elect chief technology officer Joshua Levine.
So far, the undeclared candidates look pretty mainstream, with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; former Gov. Jon Hunstman, R-Utah; and President Obama among the top "drafted" candidates. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are also near the top of the list.
Among the candidates who have sought the nomination, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer leads the pack. California activist Michealene Risley (currently third among declared candidates) said she was drafted by someone else, but is grateful for the chance to run.
"It gives us an opportunity to start working and stop complaining," she said.
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