Third-party candidates face unequal hurdles for presidential ballot


By Shawn Dobbs, Contributor


From the headlines on major news outlets, you’d think that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are the only candidates for president this year. Exactly as planned.
But wait? There are more? In fact, there are fourteen declared presidential candidates.
The multi-party system is supposed to ensure us a choice of candidates so that the people are spoken for, but it has in practice become a two-party system. The system as it stands guarantees a Republican and a Democrat candidate, and nothing else. The two major party machines have the money and power to dominate the political field and ensure that it remains nearly impossible for a third party candidate to have a real chance.
First, a third-party candidate has to get on the ballot in all 50 states, and since each state has its own ballot-access laws, there are 50 different procedures to follow, from paying a simple fee to amassing thousands of signatures and filing countless documents. Republicans and Democrats have a few official forms to fill out, but for the most part are grandfathered onto the ballot since they were on the ballot in the previous election. This process diverts time, energy and resources that could be used to reach voters and instead ties it up in leaping unnecessary hurdles. The Constitution makes clear that the requirements for president are few- one has only to be a United States citizen at least 35-years -old. The process for running for president should be as simple as our Constitution intended.
Even more difficult than getting on the ballot in all 50 states is getting a place on the debate stage. In order to participate in a Presidential debate, one must poll at 15 percent popularity in a national poll. This is where major third party contenders often get stuck. The problem is that the polls often don’t include third party candidates. Gary Johnson managed to make an appearance at a few Republican debates last year, but even then the Republican National Convention and the major polling operations made sure to exclude Johnson from most polls. In response, he switched to the Libertarian Party. This means that even though Johnson is the official candidate for president for the Libertarian Party and his name will be on the ballot, he will not be at any presidential debates. He is offered as a choice, but has not been given the opportunity to make clear what that choice represents.
Until the electoral process is rewritten, that is the way things will stay. And in any case, is it much different from how things already are? We are given a choice, Romney or Obama, but neither has articulated what difference that choice will make, and those that do make a difference are suppressed.