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By Dave Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer
Woodside resident and documentary filmmaker Michealene Risley has a June deadline. She needs at least 50,000 people -- 5,000 in each of 10 states -- to make a secure mouse click at the Americans Elect website to indicate their backing for her national candidacy in the November election.
Ms. Risley is running for president of the United States, and so far, she is in a top tier. Americans Elect is a grass-roots, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization now engaged in qualifying for space on the ballots in all 50 states come election day.
The group needs 2.9 million signatures and had nearly 2 million, according to a recent count. "We are certified in many states already and are waiting on certification in several others," the group says. "We are well on our way."
The website lists three tiers of candidates: seeded, drafted and declared. Among the 20 declared candidates, Ms. Risley, with 263 backers, was running third (at publication time) behind former Louisiana governor Charles "Buddy" Roemer who has 1,081, and Boston University economics Professor Laurence J. Kotlikoff with 296.
Exactly who will be on the ticket is a matter for delegates -- members of the public -- who, in association with the group's legal team, will have an online convention in June, according to a candidate guidebook.
Go to www.AmericansElect.org to sign up as a delegate.
One notable rule: the ticket must have candidates of different political affiliations. As the organization puts it: "Pick a president, not a party."
"Any person constitutionally and professionally qualified to serve as president may seek the Americans Elect nomination as long as he or she agrees to reach across the political space and pick a running mate from another party," the statement says.
Not all Americans Elect candidates will be playing on the same field, however. Mr. Roemer, as a former governor, has the advantage of having been seeded. The list of seeded candidates includes every member of Congress, all 50 governors, former governors, the mayors of the 100 largest U.S. cities, chief executives of corporations with 1,000 or more employees, and presidents of American universities with 4,000 or more students.
Unseeded candidates like Mr. Kotlikoff and Ms. Risley need 50,000 backers to be considered at the convention, but Mr. Roemer needs just 10,000, 1,000 in each of 10 states.
These thresholds are meant to deter those who seek to disrupt the process, the candidate guidebook says.
About 300 seeded candidates have sufficient support to have been drafted. Unlike Mr. Roemer, most of these candidates have not declared that they're running for Americans Elect.
Leading this list is Texas Congressman Ron Paul with 4,200 clicks, followed by former Utah governor Jon Huntsman with 2,067 and independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who with 1,448 clicks is about 200 ahead of President Barack Obama.
Asked how she came to this high ambition, Ms. Risley said in an interview that she was going over her resume last summer and the question "What's next?" occurred to her.
"Someone sent me a link (to Americans Elect) and I was captivated," she said. "I looked at my kids and I realized that I can't leave (the country as it is) for them."
Ms. Risley is the mother of three school-age boys and the author of two documentary films, one of which was nominated for an Academy Award.
Her concerns in running for president center on money in politics. She said she wants publicly funded elections, air time donated by media networks, and private money out of politics. She said she is deeply concerned about the 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, allowing unlimited campaign spending by interest groups on behalf of candidates.
"We've never been here as a country before," she said. "If we don't get a handle on these issues, we're not going to see a country that we recognize anymore."
Why not run for the Senate? "Once you get in the system, you have to play the game," she said. "I'm not interested. I want to break the game."
It's not that the politicians don't have great ideas, but that they lack the courage to act on them, she said. She is at work on a platform that she said she would gladly hand off to a nominee, but writing the platform "makes you want to scream," she said.