Debates, polls have to include third-party candidates

In most cases, voters are hard-pressed to name the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the Green Party. This is only one of several reasons why efforts to establish a viable alternative to the two-party system in the United States.

David Cobb and Patricia “Pat” LaMarche are the Green Party nominees for president and vice president. Since the beginning of their campaign, both have fought an uphill battle to increase voter awareness of not only their causes, but in most cases face the problem that voters are not even aware of their ticket.

To make matters worse, candidates such as Cobb and LaMarche are routinely excluded from opinion polls. In order to be included in TV debates, candidates have to achieve a certain percentage of the national votes according to polling data. For this reason, LaMarche was recently barred from the scheduled vice presidential debate between Republican incumbent Dick Cheney and Democratic candidate Sen. John Edwards, as she did not fulfill this requirement. But if candidates such as Cobb and LeMarche are not even an option in opinion polls, how will they ever be included in debates?

The debates are often the time when voters can compare their options with the most ease. By barring third-party candidates from the debates, the choices voters think they have are narrowed. Such practices also narrow the scope of topics that are discussed. Third-party candidates often tread less carefully, as they have less to lose. Their addition to the ticket adds to the political landscape and addresses issues that other candidates are afraid to touch.

In 2000, then Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was not only excluded from the presidential debates, but was also barred from being physically present at the venue housing the debates, thereby excluding him not only from the debate itself but hampering his ability to comment on the debate to reporters afterward.

If third parties are to become a viable option, the election system will have to change. Judging by the roadblocks the two large parties are putting in their way, though, third parties may continue to travel the rocky paths while the “official” candidates have ready access to the public.