The first contest is weeks away, and Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are still pushing to be included.
After sponsoring presidential debates for several cycles in the late 1970s and 1980s, the League of Women Voters quit—with harsh words for a new organization, established by the two major parties, that had worked to minimize its role.
League president Nancy Neuman accused the Commission on Presidential Debates of carefully choreographing an upcoming debate behind the League’s back, thus minimizing political risk for the candidates and creating a dishonest experience for viewers.
“We have no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public,” Neuman said at a 1988 press conference.
Nearly 30 years and some half-dozen election cycles have since passed. But U.S. third parties say the commission is still hoodwinking voters. Hampered by the group’s debate-qualifying criteria, third-party candidates have difficulty making the stage, and they accuse the commission of purposefully keeping them out to protect the two major parties. A third-party candidate hasn’t been included since 1992, and at the first general-election debate of 2016, chances are the most viable third-party candidates, the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson, won’t be there either.