Currently the CPD has required that presidential candidates reach 15 percent in national polls to participate in the presidential debates. This criterion is an absurd obstacle for any candidate wishing to participate in presidential debates. There are many problems with this criterion that contradict the best interests of the American public.
The criterion directly contravenes the wishes of the majority of American voters. Seventy-six percent of registered voters supported Ross Perot's inclusion in the 1996 debates, and 64 percent wanted Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan included in the 2000 presidential debates. Yet, they were excluded from the debates. The CPD is relying on polling data to reject third party candidates when such data often shows that a majority of Americans want third-party candidates in the debates.
The criterion disregards the allocation of taxpayer funds. Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, a party that receives five percent of the popular vote qualifies for federal matching funds for the next election. Setting the criteria at 15 percent in pre-debate polls therefore raises the question: How is it that taxpayers can finance a candidate's campaign, and yet not be able to see or hear him?
The criterion irrationally requires candidates to prove their viability before the general public knows much about them. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. said that the 15 percent threshold "excludes non-major party candidates on the basis of polls from a public who has not yet had an opportunity to hear from those candidates." The CPD (Commission on Presidential Debates) is essentially predicting, from premature poll numbers, who will not win the election, and excluding those candidates. But aren't the voters, not the polling sample or the CPD, supposed to determine who will and will not win the election?
The criterion marginalizes the contributions of losing third-party candidates. Most third parties crumble. But, fleeting third-party movements and losing third-party candidates have made remarkable social and political contributions. Third-party candidates have introduced popular and groundbreaking issues that were eventually co-opted by the major parties, such as the abolition of slavery. The CPD nullifies the contributions of contemporary third-party candidates. Excluded third-party candidates can't break the bipartisan conspiracy of silence on issues where the major parties are at odds with most of the American people.
The criterion ignores the vast array of structural barriers that confront third party candidates. Non-major party candidates face the most discriminatory ballot access laws of any democracy in the world, a winner-take-all system, significant financial contributions to the major parties, and scant media coverage.
The CPD's first and foremost line of defense is, according to Executive Director Janet Brown, that "over 200 candidates run for president every four years. We can't let all of them on stage." While this statement is fairly accurate, nobody has been petitioning to have every registered candidate included in the presidential debates. We should have a criteria that limits the debates to only those who have a reasonable chance of winning.
This is why I am proposing the criteria to be included into the presidential debates be changed from an absurd requirement of 15 percent polling to have qualifying ballot access in at least 45 states. This is by far a reasonable offer by not only having the candidate meet the requirement of being able to win the 270 electoral votes, but also not have to win each state that they are qualified in.