LETTER TO THE EDITOR: All qualified candidates should be involved in debates

As a longtime member and past president of the League of Women Voters of Kent County, I applaud Jesse McVay’s letter in the Delaware State News of Sept. 24, 2016 [“Let Gary Johnson get involved in the debates”]. Mr. McVay accurately recounts the sabotaging of the democratic process in 1988, when the Commission on Presidential Debates, headed by the chairs of the two major parties, prevented the League of Women Voters of the United States from moderating the national presidential debates.

The Republican and Democratic campaigns secretly agreed to decide which candidates could participate in the debates, which individuals would be panelists (and therefore able to ask questions) and even the height of the lecterns.

The LWVUS insisted that all candidates who qualify to have their name on the national ballot be invited to participate in the debates. The League’s Education Fund argued that a change in sponsorship that put control of the debate format in the hands of the two dominant parties deprived voters of the chance to see candidates outside of their controlled campaign environment.

The CPD placed so many restrictions on the debate format that Nancy Newman, then LWVUS president, stated that the League had “no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.” The League continues to represent non-partisanship and inclusiveness in the political process while the two major parties have conspired to limit political competition.

Unfortunately, Mr. McVay’s narrow recommendation for expanding the presidential debates undermines the very principle of fairness that he advocates. In expressing his concern that Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, was denied an invitation to debate, he omits reference to the other major candidate who qualified to run for the country’s highest office – Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, whose ideas reflect the aspirations of a growing national movement for greater inclusiveness, equity and justice in the American system of government. The Green Party focus on such major issues as climate change, college affordability and systemic racism amplifies the range and depth of the national discourse.

Both Johnson and Stein missed the cut for the first presidential debate, failing to reach the arbitrarily designated 15-percent polling average in surveys approved by the CPD. Nevertheless, Johnson and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld are on the ballot in 50 states and D.C. Stein and her running mate, human-rights activist Ajamu Baraka, are on the ballot in 45 states (including D.C.) and are qualified for write-in status in another three states.

The League of Women Voters of Delaware, in conjunction with the American Association of University Women and Delaware State University, is sponsoring a Candidates Night debate on the evening of Oct. 26. Libertarian and Green Party candidates for representative in Congress and governor of Delaware appear on the Delaware ballot and have been invited to participate in the forum alongside their Republican and Democratic opponents.

In a Candidates Night co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Kent County AAUW, Dover Chapter, and Modern Maturity Center on Oct. 19, a Green Party candidate for state representative, 29th District, who appears on the ballot, has been invited to debate her Republican and Democratic opponents.

Thomas Jefferson has been quoted as saying, “An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” In order for citizens to be informed, they must have the opportunity to educate themselves on all options available to them.

Denying ANY qualified candidate the opportunity to present her or his views to the voting public diminishes not only democracy’s vitality, but also, its legitimacy. The League of Women Voters will continue to work to expand participation in the political process at all levels. We hope Mr. McVay will join us.

Ellen O. Wasfi

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