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Give Independents a Fair Shot

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Editor’s note: This article was written by Peter Ackerman, chairman of Level the Playing Field, and Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. It originally published in The Washington Post.

 

The prospect of a White House run by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has reignited a critical debate about whether it’s possible for an independent to be elected president of the United States.

Consider this paradox: Two of the leading 2016 presidential candidates — Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders — have no history of loyalty to either major party. Yet both decided to run in the party primaries — Trump as a Republican, Sanders as a Democrat — while pledging to support their party’s winner should they not win the nomination. That these two very different candidates came to similar conclusions helps illustrate why there is so much dissatisfaction with our nation’s political system.

As billionaires, people such as Trump and Bloomberg can self-fund an independent campaign, but without adequate liquid resources, all other qualified candidates have no way to mount a serious bid for the U.S. presidency outside the two major parties. This is the product of collusion between operatives from the Democratic and Republican parties who, through the design of hidden rules, jealously guard their duopoly.

Here is one example of an anti-competitive rule: Based on a little-known rider to the 2014 reconciliation bill, Democratic and Republican presidential nominees can now receive $834,000 per person, per year, through their parties for use in the campaigns. But unaffiliated candidates can collect only $2,700 each.

Here’s another: If you are the Democratic or Republican nominee, your party will automatically appear on the ballot in all 50 states and the District. If you are an independent candidate, you must get your name on the ballot through 51 separate signature drives, requiring the collection of millions of signatures.

In the 2012 campaign cycle, Americans Elect (which we, respectively, co-founded and supported) completed the largest signature drive in U.S. history. More than 2.6 million people in 41 states signed our petitions demanding that an independent candidate for president appear on their state’s ballot. The cost was more than $12 million, which is why unaffiliated candidates relying on small donations have virtually no hope of gaining national ballot access.

And here is the most undemocratic rule of all: All those who run as a Democrat or Republican know on Day One that if they win the nomination, they are guaranteed a place in the fall presidential debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates — dominated by Republican and Democratic loyalists — requires all candidates to average at least 15 percent support in the polls just seven weeks before the election.

While 15 percent may seem reasonable, applying such a threshold in a three-way race so late in the election cycle creates an insurmountable Catch-22. Here’s why: A candidate needs to have 60 to 80 percent name recognition to have any hope of polling at 15 percent. But the mass media will not seriously cover an independent candidate until his or her debate status is clarified. The cost of achieving 60 to 80 percent name recognition without significant free media exceeds $250 million. Raising that sum in amounts not exceeding $2,700 per person would be virtually impossible.

It is hard for people to believe that these obscure rules matter so much. Yet this is precisely what the two parties count on to distract the public from their pernicious effects.

Recently, one of the co-chairs of the Commission on Presidential Debates, former Republican Party chairman Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., said on national television that “it would be great” to see a third candidate in this fall’s debates. He did not mention that in October he led a behind-closed-doors vote at the commission to sustain the rule that ensures that no independent other than a billionaire has a real chance to be in the debates.

Unaffiliated candidates could compete for a third spot based on a primary for independents.

The good news is that these anti-competitive debate rules don’t have the force of law. With good will and imagination, they can be modified or eliminated.

Instead, a third candidate for the debates could be determined on the basis of a competitive signature drive across the country. Or unaffiliated candidates could compete for a third spot based on a primary for independents. The winner could be decided by May based on verifiable online voting, where potentially as many Americans could vote as do in the two-party primaries. Ideally, independents would be able to compete in state primary elections at the same time as those for the two major parties.

It would be great if Bloomberg decided to run and give the American voter a nonpartisan choice for president in 2016. But what about 2020 and beyond? We think serious and compelling independent candidates would be willing to run for president if they could count on a fair fight between them and the major party nominees.

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1624 comments
Micu M Finkelstein
Micu M Finkelstein

The big problem is, is like we have a big table, and both parties is putting laws, codes, regulations, and so on....but no one of the politicians is cleaning up that table before is putting more on that table, and there is already so much there, to put people in the bandage,....people is scare to do business  for this risen and for one person is doing something bad, they punishing all of us, or political correctness, people got tire of this sh*t, so this is what is the reality, and Trump cares about it, so he is the man......

signdoc
signdoc

I say, the Political bunch in charge are A$$holes!!!!. I say Samm Tittle Independent Candidate for President!!!!!. Trrump is a Democrat wearing a Sheep skin as a Republican. Liar and Con Artist!!!!

JKennedy
JKennedy

This all makes sense- great info- I am troubled by the prospect of a large scale online vote mentioned in this article- but a third candidate is definitely what we need to keep this democracy viable in the future.

Carolyn Emory Ray
Carolyn Emory Ray

Thank God we have a choice as to whether we choose to watch this fiasco for TWO YEARS. I FOR ONE WOULD RATHER WATCH CARTOONS!!

Dorothy Rodman Johnson Lawler
Dorothy Rodman Johnson Lawler

If America is so tired of our current government why won't they open their eye to another opponent. Seems to me they still want to vote for their party or not at all. I tell people all the time about the Www.veteranspartyofAmerica.org and share everything Chris Keniston and Deacon Taylor put on facebook but I always get the same answer a third party will only take away from this party or that party. I tell them most of America thinks the same thing but if all those would vote for Chris and Deacon then they could win by a land slide. America we need to change the way we think. The two party system has destroyed this country and have made American a minority in our on country.

Dorothy Rodman Johnson Lawler
Dorothy Rodman Johnson Lawler

I'm sorry but all the candidates I have seen and listen to except Chris Keniston and Deacon Taylor are a joke., Hillary a compulsive lier and partner in murder Donald Trump is just a joke that they put on news so America will keep their mind on him. WWW.VETERANSPARTYOFAMERICA.ORG

Dorothy Rodman Johnson Lawler
Dorothy Rodman Johnson Lawler

I have to agree with you Chris Keniston if they won't mention you and Deacon Taylor who is riding his motorcycle all over USA then they are no better than the mainstream media who we know our paid for what they put on

Chris Keniston
Chris Keniston

IVN has been aware Veterans Party of America's efforts and my nomination since August 2015. After an initial interview, my only mentions here have been in the comments section. We know better than to expect coverage from mainstream media. But when independent media sources like IVN refuse to mention our efforts, it seems you are part of the problem... not the solution. chriskeniston2016.com

Frank Davis
Frank Davis

Nobody will fix the system. It's up to we the people. People who think there is one candidate that will fix it are fools.

Frank Davis
Frank Davis

Jeff I agree. Media is not objective on either side and they don't have to be. We are dumb because we take their fiction as fact and then go beat each other over the heads with it.

Frank Davis
Frank Davis

We don't hold the media accountable! There is no objective journalism anymore. They give us opinion as fact. Then we stupidly go argue amongst ourselves on social media about whose side is more correct.

Dennis Fick
Dennis Fick

End Citizens United Now. Or we'll continue to have Government for sale.

Frank Davis
Frank Davis

Sorry sir you are part of the problem. We need to stand up as a nation and force our leaders to allow for more than two parties.

Beverly Black
Beverly Black

yes! We lost Carson because of no independent possibility. I dislike the frontrunners in both parties, VEHEMENTLY.

Danny Baker
Danny Baker

Gary Johnson via his OAI is suing the CPD. Look for more candidates on stage in 2016!

Lenny Landis
Lenny Landis

Yes, all Independents should be in the debates.

Johnny Ritchie
Johnny Ritchie

LOL, no you need a better candidate, along with the Republicans Citizens United, Money equals free speech ended, along with both major parties gerrymandering ended. You can't get there in the next Century, until you recognize both parties are not the same. The Republicans own Citizens United AND Money equals free speech the the Republican SCOTUS's legalizing the corruption since 1975, 40+ years.

Jaqueline Pray
Jaqueline Pray

I am a conservative Independant who must register Republican because of this 2 party farce.

Jaqueline Pray
Jaqueline Pray

The debates just need to be completely changed. The only way media should be involved is to report what happened. The media has made a circus out of a serious American election. The questions asked are ridiculous pitting one against the other. The whole government system needs to be revamped to reflect caring for the American people not the George Soros' of the country. The Republicans and Democratic governing is made to bring the people to their knees. Working so hard to make a living they have no time to see what a corrupt system we have. The masses are like robots who cannot think for themselves

Brenda Duffey
Brenda Duffey

Yes. I see no candidate that has a viable program to end endless war and tackle climate change. Jill Stein comes the closest but some of her ideas are far too close to Bernie Sanders focus on expanding the federal bureaucracy.

Colin Veerkamp
Colin Veerkamp

Should have studied Milton Friedman, I like Bernie but his plans won't work

Edo Mihic
Edo Mihic

NO MATTER WHAT THEY SAY OR DO , OUR VOTE GOES TO TRUMP ,A MAN THEY CAN'T MANIPULATE, MR. DONALD TRUMP. HE DOESN'T OWE ANYONE ANYTHING ,TRUMP THE NEXT PRESIDENT, THE MAN THAT SPEAKS THE TRUTH THEY ARE DESPERATE AND WILL SAY OR DO ANYTHING TO GET TRUMP OUT, IT'S NO HAPPENING VOTE FOR AMERICA VOTE FOR TRUMP

Laura Brann
Laura Brann

Super Pacs should be outlawed. Each candidate would be playing on the same level playing field if some of them weren,t being financed by these deep pocket groups.

Laura Brann
Laura Brann

Yes....competition is good and since the Republicans have pretty much destroyed their party, certainly could use a replacement.

Noel Carole Sundheimer
Noel Carole Sundheimer

Now that Bernie has proven a campaign can be financed by the people and not 'pacs', I think people will realize it is possible and support it....and changing the rules.

Danny Bolin
Danny Bolin

Republicans and Democrats should not be allowed to run. Only Americans.

Guinevere Boyd
Guinevere Boyd

Bernie Sanders has been under a media blackout. DTrump gets some 23 times more coverage.

Billye Martin
Billye Martin

Look at bernie sanders. If you are an independent and run in a party in order to compete, you get attacked by republicans, democrats and the media. The entire system is corrupt. This has proven that we really don't have 2 parties. We have one corporate system that has created the illusion of two parties. They give us 2 choices but both are candidates picked by the corporate system that won't really change anything that rocks their boat

Kenneth W. Purdy
Kenneth W. Purdy

I held my nose as I voted. (No, the guy in the next booth didn't have gas.) We need more and better choices. I only went today because a lot of people died for my right to do it, and we have scoundrels trying to suppress that!

Patricia DePietro
Patricia DePietro

Also more people would run if there was a LIMIT of money to be spent by each candidate. But elections are big business. Just look how much Jed alone spent for nothing. Hillary has an enormous budget to spend. How can you expect other to compete? Limit spending and allow more available, same amount, of individual Air time.

Bobby French
Bobby French

Just make sure u vote. That's your obligation as a citizen. Who ever it is, you only throw your vote away when you don't use it.

George Osborne
George Osborne

ONLY IF YOU WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO FORM... THEN CRY IN YOUR MILK... RIGHT NOW THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IS THE DEMOCRATS...PEOPLE FAIL TO SEE THE TRUTH.. FOREIGN COUNTRIES OWN OR CONTROL 90% OF ALL MEDIA... DO YOU THINK THEY WANT FAIR TRADING OR JOBS LEAVING AND COMING HOME TO AMERICA... ... STOP AND THINK......Donald Trump For President..

Richard E Barros
Richard E Barros

The Libertarians and Green parties should sue any debate organizers that do not allow them a national voice.

George Osborne
George Osborne

SET AND CRY DOESN'T DO A THING.. THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IN AMERICA IS THE DEMOCRATS..... PEOPLE FAIL TO SEE THE TRUTH.. FOREIGN COUNTRIES OWN OR CONTROL 90% OF ALL MEDIA... DO YOU THINK THEY WANT FAIR TRADING OR JOBS LEAVING AND COMING HOME TO AMERICA... ... STOP AND THINK......Donald Trump For President... I WAS AN INDEPENDENT,,

George Osborne
George Osborne

I WAS AN INDEPENDENT !!! STOP CRYING IN YOUR MILK THIS LATE IN THE ELECTIONS.... HELP CLEAN OUT WASHINGTON....PEOPLE FAIL TO SEE THE TRUTH.. FOREIGN COUNTRIES OWN OR CONTROL 90% OF ALL MEDIA... DO YOU THINK THEY WANT FAIR TRADING OR JOBS LEAVING AND COMING HOME TO AMERICA... ... STOP AND THINK......Donald Trump For President..

Scott N. Carr
Scott N. Carr

Let's see, wrong, stupid, irrelevant, ignorant & scared, obviously incorrect. There you go Chris. An accurate analysis of your comment.

LaNita Canaday
LaNita Canaday

Take out the parties and let people vote for the candidate instead of the party

Ajit Patel
Ajit Patel

If there was a fair system where in Independents could have run, without having to join either of the two parties, I'm sure Bernie, Trump and others would have readily run under the Independent banner. The monopoly created by the two parties in the two party system prevents anyone else from running, despite the fact that over 42% of registered voters are Independents. Only 26% are Republican and 29% Democrats. And, 90% of ALL Americans are sick and tired, and very disillusioned with both parties and the government!!

Carol Sue Kirby-Canlas
Carol Sue Kirby-Canlas

Really think their would be less division if indeed more independent were allowed to run..

Robert Zmuda
Robert Zmuda

Our country has been for at least the last 40 years and is now suffering from what crony under regulated capitalism and the corporate personhood of multi national corporations has done to it brought about by the play book called the Powell Memo . This is what conservative corporate capitalism does to a democratic nation and the world. We are in the economic and social situation we are in because this is where capitalism drove us... That's what capitalism does to democratic republics it makes a few capitalists very wealthy who then buy up our representation to become WEALTHIER UNTIL THEY OWN OR HAVE DESTROYED EVERYTHING. Capitalism eats up everything for profit. There is no loyalty to nation or fellow country man in capitalism or the capitalist creation of " crony capitalism ". Capitalism is a economic engine that places capital in the hands of a few Capitalist who then in turn decide how best to use that capital to create more capital for the few who have the extra resources to invest. The end game of capitalism is the same end game of the board game Monopoly and as I recall only one player wins the game in its end , no ? Another creation of capital is called Corporate Personhood it gives the corporation super human rights, remember Mitt Romney comment " Corporations are people too my friend. " Well with no soul or moral objective maybe the corporate person is not such a good friend or neighbor . Ask Trumps Victims. The DNC and the Clintons Bill and Hillary have been and always will be self serving corporatist . Look at Bills presidency what bills did he sign into law that helped the middle class and poor? Save our nation vote for and help elect Bernie Sanders for President in 2016 and shock the establishment entitled elites. We voters , We the People have become complacent and comfortable for to long and let the Corporate " Person " who owns the media tell us what they want us to hear and see . We don't realize that most thing we use and enjoy were created by a democratic socialistic country or maybe public education, public libraries, public post office, public parks ( local , state and national ), public transportation, public 4th of July celebrations ,police, fire, military, Courts, jails, roads, bridges, highways, airports, harbors , water towers, water treatment plants et.et.et. We have allowed them to buy our government , local state and federal . It's Our Job WE THE PEOPLE to fix this before its to late. Vote for and help elect Bernie Sanders for President in 2016 and shock the entitled establishment elites. Let them hear the shot across the bow!

Kathy Faris Todt
Kathy Faris Todt

this is why Bernie ran as Dem instead of Ind. It's RIGGED! Who knew?

Edward Tedesco
Edward Tedesco

YES ! The system is jaded ! We need to lose political parties , eliminate money from running for office and provide a format for any candidate to have equal ground presenting their ideas ! finally we need to have term limits !

Ernest Madden
Ernest Madden

I’d like for you to hire me to run your company. What I ask is that you put my name on your corporate checkbook and give me full authority to make decisions as I see fit. If you ask what experience I have, I’ll tell you that I’ve done really great for myself and I've made a lot of money. Just believe me, I will make your company great again—it’ll be great; I’ll make so many winning deals for your company, you’ll get tired of winning. What is missing here? Would you hire me to run your company?