Newton Minow, a board member of the Commission on Presidential Debates, was the featured speaker Tuesday at the City Club of Chicago. He addressed criticism directed at the commission over its exclusion of third-party candidates from the first presidential debate and commented on the state of American politics.
During a Tuesday speech before the City Club of Chicago, a sitting member of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) responded to criticism over its exclusion of third-party candidates from the first presidential debate next Monday.
"What should we do today, 2016, about third-party, fourth-party candidates?" said Newton Minow, a commission board member and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. "That's the dilemma that I don't know what the answer is. You obviously cannot take every candidate for president."
The first of three presidential debates during the 2016 campaign is scheduled for Monday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
On Friday, the commission disqualified Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party's Jill Stein from the debate because they each failed to garner at least 15 percent in an average of five polls. The 15 percent polling threshold is one of three requirements presidential candidates must meet in order to make the debate stage.
Johnson's average was 8.4 percent and Stein's was 3.2 percent, according to the commission.
Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump were the only candidates who qualified for Monday's debate.
A recent poll showed that 76 percent of likely voters want the presidential debates open to any third-party candidate certified on a majority of state ballots.
Johnson and Stein have each accused the commission of being rigged against third-party candidates.
"The CPD may scoff at a ticket that enjoys 'only' 9 or 10% in their hand-selected polls, but even 9% represents 13 million voters, more than the total population of Ohio and most other states," Johnson said in a statement Friday. "Yet, the Republicans and Democrats are choosing to silence the candidate preferred by those millions of Americans."
Stein and her running mate Ajamu Baraka plan to show up Monday with their supporters at the gates of Hofstra University as part of their ongoing push to open the presidential debates to any candidate on enough ballots to garner 270 electoral college votes.
"We will be at the debate to insist that Americans not only have a right to vote, but we have a right to know who we can vote for," Stein said in a statement Friday. "The commission is fooling the voter into thinking the commission is independent and non-partisan. They created an arbitrary 15% polling barrier to stifle competition, and prevent a real debate about the future of this country. That's two-party tyranny, not democracy."
During his speech entitled "Presidential Debates: Then and Now," Minow acknowledged that he does not "like the idea of using polls" to determine debate eligibility.
Polls, Minow said, "cannot be exactly right, but they're the closest thing we have to finding out what public support is. If anybody's got a better idea, please tell me."
Minow said there has been great debate over the "pros and cons of having a numerical poll criteria, but our problem is we don't know a better alternative."
"If somebody's got a better idea, we'd like to have it," he repeated. "We're not satisfied with what we got."
Overall, Minow said he has "never seen more interest in the debates" than this year, noting that greater attention is also being paid to who the moderators are and whether they should serve as fact-checkers.
Minow also offered his thoughts on the 2016 Republican primary debates, calling them "terrible."
"You got people yelling and screaming, talking about their private parts," Minow said. "It was ghastly. We want these things to be serious."
The former FCC chairman went on to lament the political partisanship in Illinois and across America.
"Bitter partisanship -- it's particularly true here in Illinois of all places -- that bitter partisanship has permeated American politics," he said. "It's a very sad thing to me that all the fun and joy in politics is evaporated."
Minow suggested that a realignment of the major political parties may be in order. He said the idea of having three parties, including one on the left, right and center, is appealing.
"What you've got now is the Democrats being driven further and further to the left, Republicans being driven further and further to the right. The broad American center feels disenfranchised," he said. "I'm just wondering, after the election, whether this ought to be examined."