The number of independent or unaffiliated voters, who are presumably fed up with Democrats and Republicans, has risen steadily over the past few years. When libertarian or progressive candidates are included in polls, there is sometimes a notable difference. For instance, Gary Johnson is polling as high as 10.6 percent in swing state Ohio. This is a substantial portion of the electorate and could sway the state in one direction or the other.
In such scenarios, at least one of the major parties (depending on which one suffers most from the inclusion of third parties) has every incentive to prevent people from voting for alternative candidates. And so, voters are intimidated into supporting the person they dislike least, ballot access is made extraordinarily difficult, and third party candidates are excluded from polls and debates, and are granted limited media coverage.
This is the routine method by which millions of Americans are denied their right to vote for, in many instances, perfectly legitimate candidates. Being twice elected governor of a state or twice elected mayor of a large city should earn one at least a modicum of respect.
Many people, perhaps correctly, argue for pragmatism. Compromise a bit and vote for the better of the two major candidates and ultimately, the country will be a better place to live. This argument usually persuades most voters. However, this pragmatic viewpoint should not be forced onto our electoral system. Let voters decide for themselves if pragmatism trumps idealism in a particular election. One must also take into account the possibility of both candidates being deemed unacceptable for very practical reasons. For instance, the war in Vietnam was considered an inexcusable policy by many young voters faced with literally a life-or-death choice. Elections devoid of anti-war candidates were subject to mass demonstrations and public outrage.
The inclusion of serious third party and independent candidates in televised debates is one necessary revision to our current electoral process. One possible danger of more inclusive debates is that they could turn into a “circus,” similar to the gubernatorial debate in New York that featured, among others, a former madam and “The Rent is Too Damn High” guy. Despite some clownish candidates, New Yorkers voted for Democrat Andrew Cuomo, who was always their preferred choice. There was no “spoiler” or confusion: voters picked the person they actually wanted.
How one avoids frivolous candidates in debates might be a tricky endeavor. A new, comprehensive set of guidelines would need to be created. Perhaps previous political experience, grassroots support, party endorsements, and other criteria could be considered. But, again, the worst case scenario would be the inclusion of eccentric candidates. The more likely outcome would be an election with greater voter turnout, richer discussions on important policies, the inclusion of issues not even mentioned by major party candidates, and a citizenry that feels that someone out there is actually representing their views.
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