The restless political middle, emboldened by the recent inability of a special congressional committee to agree on a debt-reduction deal, is staking out a controversial plan to insert itself into the 2012 election.

A bipartisan group of political strategists and donors known as Americans Elect has raised $22 million and is likely to place a third presidential candidate on the ballot in every state next year.

The goal is to provide an alternative to President Barack Obama and the GOP nominee and break the tradition of a Democrat-vs.-Republican lineup.

The effort could represent a promising new chapter for political moderates, who see a wide-open middle in the political landscape as congressional gridlock and bitter partisan fights have driven down favorability ratings for both parties.

"Voters are saddened by the inability of people in Washington to deal with the issues that are important to them," said the group's chief executive, Kahlil Byrd, a Republican strategist who once worked for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat.

Americans Elect has ballot slots in Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and five other states, with certification pending in several others.

The group is relying on an ambitious plan to hold a political convention on the Internet that would treat registered voters like fans of "American Idol," giving everyone a shot at picking a favorite candidate.

"We want to gather millions of people and allow them to run authentically through the process," Byrd said, calling it a "wide-scale draft movement for presidential candidates."

Unlike the Green Party, Americans Elect is not creating a separate party, but trying to change the political process in two ways.

First, the group seeks to create a mixed-party ticket, requiring its presidential candidate to pick a running mate from a different party.

Second, Americans Elect wants to take the nominating process out of the hands of a few primary voters and make it more open through the use of technology.

Registered voters who sign up on the group's website would directly nominate and select candidates online in the spring. A final nominee would be selected in June.

All of this has the potential to affect the 2012 election, said Nicco Mele, who lectures at Harvard University on technology and politics and helped build an online following for former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

Americans Elect's online nomination process could be "potentially disruptive" to the presidential campaign, he said.

No candidates for Americans Elect nomination have officially declared, but some people are associated with the effort, including former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, who serves on the group's board of directors.

Americans Elect was formed and is backed by Peter Ackerman, a wealthy private investor and philanthropist, along with Byrd.

A hyperpartisan Washington also has prompted other new groups. The organization known as No Labels is backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is pushing members of Congress to work together.

Upward Spiral, an initiative supported by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, is urging Americans to pledge to withhold donations from both parties to protest the overly partisan atmosphere.

Neither of those groups support Americans Elect's plan to nominate a third ticket.