On Monday, August 20, 2012, Gov. Gary Johnson sent the following letter to the Executive Director, the Co-Chairmen, and the Board of Directors of the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The Commission on Presidential Debates began in 1987 by the Democratic and Republican parties to establish the way that presidential election debates are run between presidential candidates.
Inclusion in the Presidential Debates
To the Commission on Presidential Debates,
I am writing to request that the National Commission on Presidential Debates reconsider your current – and exclusionary – requirements for participation in this Fall’s all-important Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates.
I am well aware of the history and genesis of the Commission, including the reality that it was created largely by the respective national leadership of the Democrat and Republican Parties. While I respect and understand the intention to provide a reasonable and theoretically nonpartisan structure for the presidential debate process, I would suggest that the Commission’s founding, organization and policies are heavily skewed toward limiting the debates to the two so-called major parties.
That is unfortunate, and frankly, out of touch with the electorate. You rely very heavily on polling data to determine who may participate in your debates, yet your use of criteria that are clearly designed to limit participation to the Republican and the Democrat nominee ignore the fact that many credible polls indicate that a full one-third of the electorate do not clearly identify with either of those parties. Rather, they are independents whose voting choices are not determined by party affiliation.
That one-third of the voters, as well as independent-thinking Republicans and Democrats, deserve an opportunity to see and hear a credible “third party” candidate. I understand that there are a great many “third party” candidates, and that a line must be drawn somewhere. However, the simple reality of our Electoral College system draws that line in a very straightforward and fair way – a reality that is reflected in your existing criteria. If a candidate is not on the ballot in a sufficient number of states to be elected by the Electoral College, it is perfectly logical to not include that candidate in a national debate. If, on other hand, a candidate IS on the ballot in enough states to be elected, there is no logic by which that candidate should be excluded.
Nowhere in the Constitution or in law is it written that our President must be a Democrat or a Republican. However, it IS written that a candidate must receive a majority of the votes – or at least 50% – cast by electors, and that any candidate who does so, and otherwise meets the Constitution’s requirements, may be President.
As the Libertarian Party’s nominees for Vice-President and President, Judge Jim Gray and I have already qualified to be on the ballot in more than enough states to obtain a majority in the Electoral College, and we are the only candidates other than the Republican and Democrat nominees to have done so, or who are likely to do so. In fact, we fully intend and expect to be on the ballots of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
However, the Commission has chosen to impose yet another requirement for participation: 15% in selected public opinion polls. Unlike your other requirements, this polling performance criterion is entirely arbitrary and based, frankly, on nothing other than an apparent attempt to limit participation to the Democrat and the Republican.
Requiring a certain level of approval in the polls has nothing to do with fitness to serve, experience, or credibility as a potential President. Rather, it has everything to do with the hundreds of millions of dollars available to and spent by the two major party candidates, the self-fulfilling bias of the news media against the viability of third party candidates, and an ill-founded belief that past dominance of the Republican and Democrat Parties should somehow be a template for the future.
In all due respect, it is not the proper role of an nonelected, private and tax-exempt organization to narrow the voters’ choices to only the two major party candidates – which is the net effect of your arbitrary polling requirement. To the contrary, debates are the one element of modern campaigns and elections that should be immune to unfair advantages based upon funding and party structure. Yet, it is clear that the Commission’s criteria have both the intent and the effect of limiting voters’ choices to the candidates of the two major parties who, in fact, created the Commission in the first place.
Eliminating the arbitrary polling requirement would align the Commission and its procedure for deciding who may participate in the critical debates with fairness and true nonpartisanship, which was the purported intent behind the Commission’s creation. As of right now, eliminating that requirement would not disrupt the process or make it unmanageable. Rather, it would simply allow the participation of a two-term governor who has more executive experience than Messrs. Obama and Romney combined, who has garnered sufficiently broad support to be on the ballot in more than enough states to achieve a majority in the Electoral College, and who, without the help of party resources and special interests, has attracted enough financial support to qualify for presidential campaign matching funds.
I urge and request you to remove the partisanship from the debates, and allow the voters an opportunity to hear from all of the qualified candidates – not just those who happen to be a Democrat or a Republican.
Governor Gary Johnson
Libertarian Nominee for President of the United States