By Richard Pryor III
This election, we find ourselves in an odd position. The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is a “successful” businessman with multiple bankruptcies and a tendency for supporting sexual assault, and Democrat Hillary Clinton has served as both Senator and Secretary of State, but has multiple scandals. Recent polling by Gallup shows that only 33% of voters trust Clinton and 35% trust Trump, and only 35% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Trump and 41% for Clinton. Because these candidates are historically disliked, third parties, such as the Libertarian Party, look to gain at the Democrats’ and Republicans’ expenses. Many people are wondering why we have not seen either Libertarian Nominee for President, Former Governor Gary Johnson, or Libertarian Nominee for Vice President and Former Governor, William Weld in any of the major debates. It’s simple: the Presidential Debates, organized by the “nonpartisan” Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) are run to keep third parties out.
The story of the CPD back in 1976, when the nonpartisan group the League of Women Voters sponsored a debate between Governor Jimmy Carter and President Gerald Ford. In 1980, they decided to invite independent candidate Representative John Anderson to the debates, because Governor Ronald Reagan said that Anderson should be included and would only debate if Anderson was there. President Carter said he wouldn’t debate Anderson. As such, only Anderson and Reagan were at the first debate, and according to the Gadsden Times, they both “aimed past the other at Jimmy Carter, the President who wouldn’t come.” The Reagan and Carter camps were in a standoff until Reagan bowed to the pressure and debated Carter alone. 1984 went well, but to ensure their dominance, in 1987, the chairmen of the two parties, Republican Frank Fahrenkopf and Democrat Paul Kirk established the CPD, to, in the words of the New York Times that same year, “take control of the Presidential debates.” Both Fahrenkopf and Kirk in a press conference indicated their opposition to seeing third party candidates in the race. And it’s still the same. The current makeup of their Board of Directors has nine members with established political views and party memberships out of the 16 members. These members include a former Governor, two former Senators, a former Representative, and a former County Commissioner/son of a Billionaire. As long as all partisan members are on board, they have a majority on the Board.
Because of this Commission, candidates and their teams have been able to rest easy knowing they will get a topic list from the CPD. As such, the League of Women Voters has stopped helping with the debates, calling the parties out for “perpetuating a fraud on the American voters” and claiming the parties are “stealing the debates from the American voters.” The CPD now has unquestioned control of the debates and have set the bar at 15 percent for candidates to reach in the polls for entry into the debates. Why? Former Governor Jesse Ventura, an Independent from Minnesota, says that it is because he was at 10 percent in the polls in his gubernatorial election in 1998, allowed to debate, and ended up with 37 percent in the final totals and won the election. FiveThirtyEight projects as of October 23 that Johnson will get 7.5 percent of the vote in November, and he is not even included in every poll. Getting 10 percent of the vote or more can sometimes mean that a candidate will win electoral votes.
Many have said that adding Johnson and/or Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein into the debates will muddy the debate, and all people need to know about is Trump and Clinton. This is the thinking that has stopped a third party from doing anything more than just a one-off performance (i.e. Ross Perot, George Wallace, Strom Thurmond). And our voting system, First Past the Post, doesn’t help either. However, at the end of the day, if we believe in open and fair elections, then we are summarily restricting Stein and Johnson’s opportunities by giving this free air time to Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton, but not the other main candidates. So please, I want you to learn before you vote because the media and CPD isn’t going to help you there.
You’ve most definitely heard a lot of things this election about both major candidates. I hope you’ve watched the debates, and if you haven’t, they’re up on YouTube. I hope you’ve read their platform and their literature. I hope you’ve gotten yourself engaged in this election. If you haven’t yet, there’s still time. But remember, there are more than two candidates for President this year, and some of those third party candidates have stellar resumes for the Presidency. Learn about the other people running. Who knows, maybe you’ll want to vote for them. If they don’t show up, read their platforms, look at their websites, watch some of their rallies and interviews.
The presidential election is one of the most important things we do in America. It allows for a nationwide debate on many different topics, and for a great exchange of ideas to take place. However, as long as we keep excluding third parties, our exchange of ideas will be less than it could be.