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In modern politics, the question of whether lesser-known third-party candidates should be invited to the Presidential Debates is a hotly debated topic in and of itself. In 2012, Gary Johnson is seeking the Presidency running under the Libertarian banner while Jill Stein is running under the Green Party banner. Along with President Obama and Mitt Romney, both Johnson and Stein will be on enough state ballots to theoretically win the 270 electoral votes needed to become President.

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Taylor Tyler examines this topic over at IVN:

The CPD’s mission statement is as follows:

”The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates. The organization, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) corporation, sponsored all the presidential debates in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000,2004 and 2008.”

For the CPD to successfully complete their mission of providing the best possible information to viewers and listeners, they must invite every candidate who has a mathematical chance of winning the presidential election. That is to say, a candidate must be listed on the ballot in enough states to be able to win 270 electoral votes.

There are currently four candidates who meet this requirement: Barack Obama, Gary Johnson, Mitt Romney, and Jill Stein. These four candidate also each receive matching FEC funds, which are paid for through the one dollar check off on individual income tax returns.

Since each of these candidates have varying opinions on the issues being debated, and each have different information to provide, they must be invited to participate in the debates. Failing to invite Gary Johnson and Jill Stein is failing to provide a large portion of information to the viewers and listeners.

Aside from already receiving matching FEC funds and the ability to theoretically win the 270 necessary electoral votes, there are a few more compelling reasons to bring this debate over participation requirements into the forefront:

With a record high percentage of U.S. voters identifying as independent from the Democratic and Republican parties, one would think that the Commission would feel obligated to invite candidates from outside the two-party system.

A poll released by Gallup on Sept. 12 asked, “Do the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job of representing the American people, or do they do such a poor job that a major third party is needed?” The results showed that 46 percent of Americans believe a third party is needed.

Ross Perot has been the only third party candidate invited to participate by the Commission when he was invited in 1992.

However, the reason for which most third-party candidates are not invited has to do with the 15% rule. Unless a candidate can show 15% in a series of national polls, they are instantly disqualified from receiving a debate invitation. This discussion can be argued both ways. It is somewhat reasonable to say that the likely winner of the election will either be President Obama or Mitt Romney, neither Johnson or Stein truly have a chance. However, in the same breath, it is arguable that the reason Stein and Johnson do not have as much of a chance has to do with the reasons outlined about which don’t give them as much free press exposure.

I’m sure there are some strong opinions on this topic. I’d love to see some reader comments.

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Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.

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