The Transylvania Times -

Closed Debates


The first presidential debate will be held Monday, Sept. 26, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. It will be followed by one vice presidential debate on Oct. 4 and two more presidential debates on Oct. 9 and Oct. 19. Yet, third-party candidates, such as Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party, are being excluded from the debates.

Logically, Johnson and possibly Stein should be included for several reasons. A recent Quinnipiac poll revealed that 62 percent of voters believe Johnson should participate in the debates, with a smaller percentage also supporting Stein’s participation. The fastest growing group of voters in the United States and Transylvania County are Unaffiliated. They do not believe in either party. Due to the unpopularity and historically high negative ratings of the presidential candidates from both leading parties – Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump – many voters are looking for a third option. That includes registered Democrats and Republicans. With the majority of Americans disillusioned with both Clinton and Trump, why is the debate stage still closed to everyone else?

The League of Women Voters sponsored presidential debates in 1976, 1980 and 1984. But in 1986, Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. and Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul G. Kirk co-founded the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). In 1988, they sent an ultimatum to the League of Women Voters to accept their conditions or lose sponsorship of the debates.

According to Nancy Neuman, president of the League of Women Voters at that time, the two party chairmen had “squeezed all of the risk out of the debate” for the candidates by dictating who would ask the questions, how the questions would be asked, what kind of photos would be taken, who would be allowed in the debate auditorium, etc. Instead of giving its nonpartisan stamp of approval, the League of Women Voters decided to no longer associate with the debates.

“We have no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public,” said Neuman.

The commission formed by the two major parties touts itself as nonpartisan on its website, but it is not. It is really bipartisan. Frankenhopf, who is president of the American Gaming Association, is still a co-chairman. The co-chair representing the Democratic party is Mike McCurry, former press secretary to Bill Clinton.

The commission requires candidates to “have a level of at least 15 percent as determined by five selected public opinion polling organizations.” This is problematic on several counts. Who selects the polling organizations? How are the polling questions phrased? How accurate are the polls? In the last presidential election and this year’s primaries, some of the polls were quite inaccurate. Gallup, one of the more trusted and responsible polling groups, is no longer polling presidential elections.

The major problem, however, is that the 15 percent requirement creates a “Catch 22” for third party candidates. Third party candidates often do not reach the 15 percent threshold because they are not given the media exposure. But in order to receive that media, such as through the presidential debates, they have to meet a 15 percent threshold. Keeping them out of the debates and the public eye helps ensure their poll numbers remain low.

A few years ago, a group of diverse and respected Americans requested the commission to open the debates to candidates outside the two major parties. They included people such as Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Martin Marietta and Lockheed Martin; Bruce Babbitt, former governor of Arizona and Secretary of the Interior; Admiral Dennis Blair, former U.S. Director of National Intelligence; Roderick Hills, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and former ambassador to China; Robert Kerry, former governor of and U.S. senator from Nebraska; Willam Webster, former director of the FBI and CIA. They and many others stated in a letter “The current rule, however, serves only the interests of the Democratic and Republican parties in maintaining their duopoly …. By controlling access to the debates, the CPD effectively determines who has a credible chance to win the election.”

If the elections in the United States are rigged, it’s not at the polling booth. It’s with the laws and regulations that restrict candidates from outside the two major parties from being on the ballots and on the debate stage.


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