Third-party and independent candidates for president face extreme hurdles in trying to compete with the two entrenched political parties:
--Ballot access laws make it difficult (sometimes impossible) to get a spot on the ballot.
--Media outlets tend to project a narrative where the race is just between the two "major party" candidates, and effectively ignore the existence of other candidates.
--Polling organizations often neglect to include third party and independent candidates in their presidential polls.
As a result of these institutional biases, not only do voters hear less about (and thus learn less about) third-party and independent candidates for president--many voters are unaware that they even exist!
This tendency of exclusion, which runs throughout the election cycle, comes to a disturbing climax with the "official" presidential debates that are held by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). The Commission, which is run by Democrats and Republicans, has created a prohibitively-high standard for inclusion in those debates. (They did so after independent candidate Ross Perot managed to get in the debates in 1992, and seriously threatened the Democrat/Republican stranglehold on the presidency.)
The Commission requires (among other things) that candidates place higher than 15% in at least 3 major nationwide polls--but as mentioned, third-party and independent candidates are seldom included in those polls in the first place. The media projects that those candidate won't matter in the election, and doesn't report on them, and the polling organizations accept that narrative and don't even ask voters about those candidates.
Thus, it is all-but impossible for a non-major-party candidate to surpass the Commission's prohibitive threshold. Meanwhile, the vast majority of voters will have a third (and maybe a fourth and fifth) option to choose from on their ballot, without having a fair and equitable opportunity to learn about those candidates--especially not in the forum where most voters look: the presidential debates held by the CPD.
Rather than use their current prohibitive and self-defeating standards for determining who should be included in the debates, the Commission should adopt a simple standard that does not rely on the choices of media outlets and polling organizations. Namely: every candidate that will be on enough ballots to potentially win a majority in the Electoral College should be invited to the debates.
This will not create a confusing or over-crowded debate situation, as the Commission might have you believe. Instead, it will simply add the (at most) two or three other candidates who have proven that they have a true national presence in the race. Rather than having the media and pollsters decide in advance that these other candidates aren't important to the American people, this would allow the American people to see and hear for themselves, and then decide for themselves.
Stop the exclusion of nationally-proven candidates from the presidential debates! Give every candidate who has a mathematical chance to win an equal shot at making his or her case to the American people in the nationally-televised debates.