I believe you're mistaken in saying that AE itself will choose the candidate. Their process is set up so that any registered voter in the U.S. can take part. Those who decide to participate will choose the candidate.
I've done ballot petitioning, though not for pay. When petitioners are paid per signature, I'd think their pay would depend largely on 1) their skill in choosing a good place to petition 2) a neat and friendly appearance, and 3) their personality and conversational skills. Smiles and a sense of humor also help, as in any contact with the public. Some people are far more skilled in this work than others and can probably earn a decent amount of money.
I don't think there's any secrecy involved in the petition form. A campaign has to follow the form mandated by election law and/or provided by election officials. Again, you could probably obtain the petition form for your state from the Secretary of State's office.
There is no way AE could disenfranchise independent voters or force them to vote for the AE ticket.
I think you should consider the possibility that some of the things you have read or heard about AE are coming from Romney or Obama supporters who really do not want Ron Paul running on a third ticket.
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