From the Columbus Dispatch on September 9:
“Given that a majority of Americans dislike the two major-party candidates for president, the Commission on Presidential Debates should open up the first presidential debate to one or more third-party candidates.
“The likeliest contender is Gary Johnson, the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, now running as the nominee of the Libertarian Party, on a ticket with Libertarian vice-presidential nominee William Weld, former two-term governor of Massachusetts.
“At present, Johnson is barred from the debates because of rules set by the presidential-debate commission. It requires that candidates draw an average of at least 15 percent in five national polls in order to take part. Of all the third-party candidates, Johnson has come closest, achieving 10 percent support in a Quinnipiac University poll pitting him against Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Green Party nominee Jill Stein. The RealClearPolitics website, which averages a variety of recent national polls, shows Johnson drawing 8.4 percent support and Stein 3.2 percent.
“Those are anemic numbers, but it’s important to remember how disadvantaged third-party candidates are in the American electoral system. Start with the fact that politics in the United States often is described as a ‘two-party system.’ This, despite the fact that there is no limit on the number of political parties that can contend for political office. The U.S. is a ‘two-party system’ largely because the two major parties — Republican and Democrat — suck all the oxygen out of the political atmosphere. Third parties seeking to put candidates on the ballot must jump through legal hoops designed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have no interest in granting outsiders easy access their exclusive club.
“The Republican and Democratic parties also have a lock on political contributions, making it extremely difficult for third parties to raise the money necessary to get their ideas on the public’s radar. As Bradley A. Smith, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, notes in his book “’nfree Speech,’ outsider candidates lacking a party machine often relied on a few big-money supporters to get their message out. But campaign-contributions limits imposed since the 1970s have eliminated this tool. For example, Smith notes that Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s ‘1968 antiwar campaign relied for seed money on a handful of six-figure donors, including Stewart Mott, who gave approximately $210,000, and Wall Street banker Jack Dreyfus Jr., who may have contributed as much as $500,000.’ Today, such contributions to candidates are illegal.
“Unlike voters in many other nations, who are used to a variety of parties offering them a wide spectrum of political flavors to choose from, in the United States, voters are conditioned to think of politics as an either-or choice, Republican or Democrat. On those rare occasions when they entertain the idea of a third party, Republicans and Democrats are quick to warn them that they’re ‘throwing their vote away.’
“In such an environment, it’s remarkable that Johnson has been able to hit double digits in any poll.
“And though he has yet to achieve the 15 percent required by the debate commission, there is a poll number the commission ought to take into consideration: Another recent Quinnipiac poll found that 62 percent of likely voters want Johnson to be included in the debates. This includes 60 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of independent voters. Voters might not be ready to say they’ll vote for him, but they overwhelmingly want to hear from him.
“The commission should give Johnson a chance.”