Independent Voter Project Files Brief Supporting Lawsuit Against Bipartisan Debate Commission

Created: 27 September, 2019
Updated: 15 August, 2022
3 min read

The exclusionary presidential debate rules that prevent any candidate outside the Republican and Democratic Parties from participating is another critical cog in the anti-competitive electoral machine that is crippling our representative democracy.

That is the argument the Independent Voter Project (IVP) and 6 esteemed individuals made in a brief of amicus curiae in support of Level the Playing Field’s lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).

The six signatories joining the Independent Voter Project would consider running for president if it were not for existing institutional barriers like the CPD’s 15% rule. They include retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis, former Nebraska Governor and Senator Joseph Robert Kerrey, former Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, No Labels co-founder and former Connecticut attorney general Clarine Nardi Riddle, No Labels co-founder and Seventh US Comptroller General David M. Walker, and former New Jersey Governor and EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

“The framework of our entire election process, including the presidential debates, gives the two major parties and their members a decided advantage. Politics is an industry, and many of the rules governing our election process were established not by a neutral arbitrator to achieve fair competition, but by the major political parties to distort the rules of competition in their favor,” the brief states.

The amicus brief was filed in support of Level the Playing Field’s appeal to the DC Court of Appeals after a lower court dismissed its lawsuit earlier this year.

IVP states that the existing rules, from exclusionary primary laws to the CPD’s 15% polling requirement, have exacerbated the nation’s political divide, damaged the democratic process, and disenfranchise a majority of the electorate while blocking qualified and credible challengers to the two-party status quo.

“Limitations on the participation of third-party and independent candidates from our presidential debates exacerbates divisions in America,” the brief says.

“A substantial plurality of American voters no longer identifies with either the Republican or Democratic Parties. As hyper-partisanship plagues our media, our political discourse, and our electoral options, the non-partisan plurality of voters is forced to either embrace one side of this artificial division or not participate in the national dialogue at all.”

The CPD asserts that its 15% rule, which requires candidates to poll at 15% in 5 national polls picked by the debate commission, is objective and reasonable. It maintains that it applies a nonpartisan approach to conducting debates.

However, the debate commission was created and is sponsored by the major parties. Its rules have been crafted by people with a political and financial investment in the continued codification of a two-party system.

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It’s no wonder there has not been a third person on the presidential debate stage since Ross Perot in 1992.

The Independent Voter Project further argues that the interplay between the 15% debate rule and presidential primaries and caucuses further damages the democratic process:

Presidential primaries and caucuses, in every state, are private activities that serve political parties. In many states, only major political party members can participate at all. The primary election season now runs nearly a full year, and there is near constant media coverage directed almost exclusively on the major party candidates.

These primary elections are finalized less than two months prior to CPD’s presidential debates. And the polls used by CPD to determine whether a candidate is qualified to participate in the “non-partisan” presidential debates are conducted right after the grand finale: the nationally televised Republican and Democratic Party conventions.”

In order words, such a limited window and zero media exposure make it impossible for any candidate outside the Republican and Democratic parties to reach the 15% polling requirement.

“CPD, in conflict with its stated mission, has abdicated this responsibility by defending a rule that is so limiting on the marketplace for new ideas that no third-party or independent candidate has qualified for the presidential debates in more than two decades. When a significant plurality of voters does not feel represented by either major party, we have a heightened obligation to change the rule.”

Read the full amicus brief here:

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