Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Let more candidates join the debates

October 17, 2006

To the Editors of the New York Times:

In your Oct. 16 editorial "Great Candidates? That’s Debatable," you say that you would like to see more debates. We also need more candidates in the debates. I was approved by the League of Women Voters for inclusion in three attorney general debates planned by the League, but two of those debates took place without me. WABC refused to include me in its attorney general debate this past Sunday, Oct. 15, and WXXI in Rochester refused to include me in its attorney general debate today, Tuesday, Oct. 17. Because of these refusals, the League withdrew its sponsorship of the two debates in a press release issued last Friday, October 13. WCNY in Syracuse has canceled a debate it previously agreed to host tomorrow, Oct. 18, between Jeanine Pirro and myself.

Excluding third party candidates from candidate debates is counter to the wishes of many voters. History shows that debate participation by third-party candidates raises debate viewership and voter turnout. The 1992 presidential debates, which included third party candidate Ross Perot, were watched by record-breaking TV audiences, averaging 90 million viewers, with a larger audience for each successive debate. Presidential voter turnout went up in 1992, reversing a 20-year downward trend. In 1996, with Perot excluded, the presidential debates averaged only 41 million viewers -- and voter turnout nosedived. In 1998, participation by third-party candidate Jesse Ventura in the gubernatorial debates in Minnesota generated massive voter turnout.

Many voters are frustrated by the closed nature of our current electoral system. A poll last spring by Princeton Survey Research Associates found that 73% of Americans agree it would be a good idea for this country to have more choices than just Republican and Democratic candidates in the 2008 presidential elections. Polls also show that many Americans do not identify as Republicans or Democrats. In a survey conducted of 15,000 voters during April 2006, Rasmussen Reports found that just 32.7% of Americans identified themselves as Republicans, 36.3% identified as Democrats and 30.9% identified themselves as unaffiliated with either major party. Policies that exclude all candidates from candidate debates except Republicans and Democrats are not reflective of voter opinions and desires.

A voter survey by Rasmussen Reports reported in August 2006, found that voters in New York are more likely than voters in any other state to express a concern about voter suppression. Thirty-four percent (34%) of the New York voters surveyed hold this view. This result is not surprising to those of us working to build viable third parties in New York and encountering the many barriers raised against us.

Let more candidates join the debates, the voters want to hear us.

Rachel Treichler
Green Party candidate for Attorney General

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