I'm starting to worry that Americans Elect may be as bad at reading South Dakota law as Stephanie Strong. Americans Elect is hoping to provide voters with an alternative presidential candidate chosen by open online nationwide primary this June. Since elections are run at the state level, Americans Elect has to get its eventual candidate on the ballot in all fifty states.

Americans Elect thus celebrates Secretary of State Jason Gant's validation of the 15,000-plus signatures it submitted on a petition last month to gain official political party status:

Americans Elect announced today that it has secured a ballot line in South Dakota. More than 15,000 registered voters signed the Americans Elect petition, nearly twice the state requirement, signaling that South Dakotans want a serious alternative choice for president this November.

...Joining 24 other states thus far, voters in South Dakota will now be able to participate in the first-ever national online primary to directly elect a unity ticket that will appear on the ballot in their state this November [Americans Elect press release, 2012.04.18].

Wait a minute: secured a ballot line? Voters now able to participate in online primary? No, that's not what happened. Let's look at Secretary Gant's statement:

Secretary of State Jason Gant announced today that the Americans Elect Party and the Constitution Party have both been officially recognized by South Dakota after a review of their petitions....

"The Americans Elect Party's petition contained roughly 15,500 signatures while the Constitution Party's petition contained about 8,875, and 7,928 signatures are required by law to organize a new political party in South Dakota," Gant said. "I have validated enough signatures to surpass that number in each case, so Americans Elect Party and the Constitution Party are the latest political parties to be officially recognized in South Dakota."

The Americans Elect Party's and the Constitution Party's state central committees will have 30 days to submit their constitution or set of bylaws to the Secretary of State's office once they are adopted; the documents must be in accordance with state law....

"Americans Elect Party and the Constitution Party will hold all the same rights in South Dakota as the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian Parties," Gant said. "To retain those rights, Americans Elect Party's and the Constitution Party's candidates for Governor will have to receive at least two and one-half percent of the total votes cast for that office in 2014."

Did you catch that last line? To maintain party status, Americans Elect has to run a candidate for South Dakota governor in 2014 and win 2.5% of the vote. Americans Elect is strictly about presidential elections. They won't run state-level candidates. Unless they have a surprise in store, Americans Elect will lose party status in 2014 and have to refile in 2016.

And refile for what? As Bob Mercer and I noted last month, Americans Elect isn't participating in the South Dakota primary, and that's the only legal route for official partisan presidential candidates to access the South Dakota ballot. Americans Elect's online primary, which allows any registered voter of any party affiliation to participate, is a great idea, but it does not appear to have statutory standing to place anyone on the South Dakota ballot. Regardless of its now official party status, Americans Elect will still have to place its candidate on the South Dakota ballot by another petition process, requiring 3,171 signatures by August 7.

Regardless of that party status, any South Dakota who wants can participate in the Americans Elect online primary. But there is no legal mechanism that stops those South Dakotans from also voting in the legal primary here in South Dakota. If the political party status bestowed official status on the Americans Elect primary, that would pose the possibility of what looks very much like election fraud. (Consider: do you get to walk into the June 5 primary, vote a Dem ballot, then return an hour later and cast a GOP ballot?)

Americans Elect has said it is not a political party. But it still has to operate within the legal parameters established an weighted in favor of the two major parties. Americans Elect needs to reread South Dakota law, focus its 2012 efforts on petitions that matter... then focus some 2013 efforts on legislative lobbying to bring our election system into the Internet era and win legal recognition for its online primary process.