Thursday, September 22, 2016

How We Illegitimize Our Democracy

Leander Edmiston |

Last Friday the Commission of Presidential Debates (CPD) announced that Dr Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party would not compete alongside the two major candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who have set records as the most unpopular major party candidates in recent history. Since last Friday the media has twisted its coverage of third-party candidates as legitimate competitors to what they are now calling “spoiler candidates.”
Brynn Anderson | AP Photo

Ralph Nader, the four time presidential candidate, recently said in an interview that “the idea of calling a third party ‘spoiler,’ using the First Amendment right to run for office, is a politically bigoted word and should never be tolerated by the American people, because everyone has an equal right to run for office.” Nader, who has been called a spoiler himself after allegedly tipping the scales in Former President George W. Bush’s favor, when he received 97,000 votes in Florida in the 2000 presidential race, says that this process is a form of scapegoating. “Here’s how it goes,” Nader, says. “300,000 registered Democrats in 2000 in Florida voted for Bush—blame the Greens. Thousands of people were misidentified as ex-felons by Katherine Harris, the secretary of state for Jeb Bush, governor of Florida—blame the Greens. Scalia’s political 5-4 decision, which blocked the Florida Supreme Court’s full recount in Florida—blame the Greens. The Electoral College took the victory in the popular vote from Gore—blame the Greens … it’s total scapegoating.”

Stein, in a recent press release called on her supporters to protest outside of Hofstra University next Monday, the location of this years presidential debates. In 2012, Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, were arrested for attempting to enter the presidential debates in a similar fashion. Here is a transcript of her remarks in 2012, moments before her arrest. “We’re here to stand ground for the American people, who have been systematically locked out of these debates for decades by the Commission on Presidential Debates. We think that this commission is entirely illegitimate; that if—if democracy truly prevailed, there would be no such commission, that the debates would still be run by the League of Women Voters, that the debates would be open.”

This years presidential debate is predicted to attract millions of viewers, and be the most viewed presidential debate in history. However, to participate in these debates the CPD requires that all candidates hold a 15 percent rating in five national polls, which are selected by the CPD chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr.. But using polling numbers creates a cyclical problem, because polls are linked to name recognition, and the most significant opportunity in history is just out of their reach because they don’t already have significant name recognition. And the media isn’t helping, as I previously reported here.
A recent USA today found that 76 percent of voters want a four party presidential debate, but the CPD, which has publicly supported a two-party system (as I previously reported here) continues to create artificial barriers, like the 15 percent polling qualification, that bar candidates like Stein and Johnson, and prevent them from having a legitimate campaign. Because what could be more illegitimizing than a democracy pulling you aside and asking you to “please, shut up.”

Gary Johnson is on the ballot in all 50 states, and Jill Stein follows closely behind with her name on ballots in 45 states.  The CPD officially requires that candidates appear on enough ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College. However, the 15 percent barrier dilutes this rule's significance and continues to bar third-party candidates. Balloting should be the precedent the CPD follows to determine whether candidates participate in our democracy, or not.  

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