The Femo: Are presidential debates exclusive?

Jill Stein

by Ashleigh McEvoy

Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala were arrested outside Hofstra University Oct. 16 as they attempted to enter the second presidential debate. A video of the incident shows the two women declare they were there to “bring the courage of those excluded from our politics to this mock debate, this mockery of democracy” and then attempt to proceed toward the building. When their path was obstructed by police officers, Stein and Honkala sat down in the parking lot, refusing to move. They were charged with disorderly conduct and held in jail for hours.

Now, Jill Stein is bringing a lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates. She argues that the CPD, in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, the Federal Election Commission, and Lynn University (the site of the third debate) failed to respect her civil rights and denied her due process, free speech, and equal protection. The Green Party had also hoped to secure a court order preventing the third debate from occurring.

The CPD requires that a candidate have 15 percent support in the polls and a path to 270 votes in order to partake in the debate. Stein and Honkala have only 2 to 3 percent support, but are on the ballot in 85 percent of the states. Over 14,000 people have signed a petition asking CPD to change its policy. Stein told Politico, “The voters deserve to hear who the candidates are, what the issues are, and what their choices are in this election.”

This incident raises many questions. What does it say about the purity of our democracy that only two presidential candidates receive the majority of media attention and entrance to the debates? Don’t voters deserve to hear from each of the candidates? What would it mean if a third-party candidate received a sizable vote share? Is Stein correct in saying that President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are more alike than different? Why did no major news outlets cover the third-party debate held this week?

I believe this exclusion says a great deal about the corporatization of our democracy and the institutionalization of our two-party system. As Stein told Salon, “Right now we have this catch-22 that potentially limits voter choice to candidates sponsored by the deep pockets of Wall Street and the fossil fuel and health insurance industries… [Obama and Romney] are the only ones who are going to meet the criteria of the Commission on Presidential Debates, but we now know that the criteria are manufactured in order to limit participation.”


photo of Jill Stein by Paul Stein