On Monday, September 26, 2016, the first of three presidential debates will take place. For some voters, this will be an occasion to resolve any doubts they have about the candidates. For others, this may be their first and only opportunity to hear the presidential candidate’s respective plans for the future of the United States.
Unfortunately, it appears that only two candidates will be on stage: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
This is because the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has a requirement that the candidates must receive the support of at least 15% of the national electorate, as determined by the average of five selected national public opinion polling organizations, to be invited to the debates.
This 15% qualifying requirement is flawed for one simple reason: the United States uses an Electoral College system and not a national popular vote system. In other words, electoral votes are attributed based on statewide support and not national support. Thus, what really matters is whether a candidate has the ability to win states and receive Electoral College votes, not whether a candidate has support throughout the country. In fact, a candidate’s national support is irrelevant, if he fails to win a single state.
Historically, the country was built on giving power to the states, and allowing for grassroots movements to grow. Disregarding the state electorate, in favor of the national electorate, violates foundational principles in U.S. democracy, and could even be considered unconstitutional. Indeed, by having a “national electorate requirement,” the importance of each individual state is reduced in favor of the national electorate.
It is understandable that the CPD wants to limit the presidential debates to candidates who actually have a chance to win the presidency. The moment is far too important for distractions. Therefore, the fair and logical solution to presidential debate requirements should be the following:
If a candidate is registered in a majority of states, and is polling significantly in a single state, then the candidate deserves to have his voice heard on the debate stage.
This requirement would maintain the focus on credible candidates while giving an opportunity for candidates with grassroots support to be represented. To be invited to the debates, candidates would simply concentrate their efforts on ballot registration, and attempt to gather significant support in the state of their choosing. Ballot and Constitutional requirements are tough enough.
To put into perspective in this current election cycle, the Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson, will be on the ballot in all 50 states, and could potentially win a number of states, yet he will not be given an opportunity to speak during the presidential debates. How is he expected to receive a significant percentage of the national electorate without being given the chance to speak to a national audience?
In sum, the purpose of the presidential debates is to help voters gather information on credible candidates. Candidates who are able to win states are credible candidates, and credible candidates should be given an opportunity to debate. It's that simple.