Home Politics Elections Election 2018 OPINION: Ohio should not include third parties in the upcoming gubernatorial debates

OPINION: Ohio should not include third parties in the upcoming gubernatorial debates

6 min read
Ohio Statehouse Rotunda. Photo by Mike King via Flickr.

Opinion Editor Tim Zelina argues there is no rational reason to include the third parties in the Ohio gubernatorial debates.

The third party candidates for Ohio governor were not invited to any of the gubernatorial debates, and they are piping hot because of it. The Libertarian Party of Ohio has even threatened to sue the debate hosts. Yet, there is little reason to allow them to attend in the first place.

The fact of the matter is, neither of these two candidates will win. The last third party governor to be elected was Minnesota’s Jesse Ventura in 1998, who was polling competitively long before the election. Ohio has never had an independent governor, unless you count the Union party governors during the civil war, but that was a special case in chaotic times.

So the question must be asked: if it is practically impossible for these candidates to surge into the lead with only a month to go, why should Ohioans have their time wasted listening to their pitch? Does everyone who makes the ballot in Ohio automatically get into debates? Do Ohioans actually benefit from hearing what two candidates, who would be lucky to make 5 percent of the vote, say?

While the perspectives of 3rd parties may be important, they are irrelevant to the realities of the governor’s race. With this election in a dead heat, what Ohioans really need to hear is what Cordray and DeWine have to take to the table.

But let’s make something clear: the duopoly system the United States operates on has been failing the nation in recent years. Limiting party affiliation to just the conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats deeply limits the breadth of political ideas in this nation.

This is most succinctly demonstrated in the abhorrent phrase “both sides of the issue.”Nuance is gone, replaced with a tribalistic us vs. them attitude on any given issue.

With only two parties, it was only a matter of time before bipartisanship eroded and the two major parties became caricatures of themselves. Voters now often have a demoralizing choice: they can vote for someone who may only moderately agree with them on a handful issues, or someone who is adamantly opposed to everything they believe in.

We saw this happen on a presidential level in 2016. Due to the awkward nature of primaries, the only two viable candidates on the ballot were highly unpopular, deeply controversial figures. Millions across the nation felt so dispassionate they stayed home, low turnout being a major contribution to the surprise election of Donald Trump.

In some democracies, you may have a dozen different choices to vote for on the ballot. These highly pluralistic governments have issues of their own, but the range of choices encourages democratic participation. American’s disillusionment with their government is at an all time high, and it all seems to boil down to the view that the politicians in D.C. do not represent the country properly. Demographically, politically, and geographically, that’s true!

Yet despite these very real concerns and the very real need America has for broader political choice, it is hard to believe that the Libertarians and Greens should be in this debate. This is a question of the utility of having them on the stage, not of what it represents.

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  1. Harold D. Thomas

    September 28, 2018 at 10:18 AM

    By arguing against our involvement as a “question of utility, not of what it represents,” Mr. Zelina is using conventional wisdom. But in arguing against our inclusion in the debates because Travis and the Green candidate “would be lucky to make 5 percent of the vote,” he fails to account for the dynamic at work.

    In this campaign, the Libertarian Party is using social media as effectively as it can and is sending out the largest and most enthusiastic volunteer army it has ever had, but we must overcome obstacles the larger parties do not have to face. Exclusion from the debates denies Ohioans the opportunity to know who Travis Irvine is and how his positions contrast with the Green candidate and the Duopoly. This year, despite aggressive efforts on our part, half of Ohio’s media seem determined to ensure that Ohioans never hear anything from either small-party candidate.

    Exclusion from the debates, when combined with Ohio’s ballot access laws and media silence, create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without exposure, we cannot get the 15-20% of the vote the media seem to demand for us to be taken seriously. Without exposure, it is difficult to recruit strong candidates, retain volunteers, and find the money to run competitive campaigns. Taken to its logical conclusion, small parties would have no choice but to run like hamsters on a wheel simply to gain ballot access, only to lose it again at the first gubernatorial or presidential election. The Libertarian Party in Ohio in July completed the ballot access process mandated by Ohio law, requiring 56,000 valid signatures on a petition. The effort cost a quarter million dollars and tens of thousands of volunteer hours. If either the Libertarian or Green Party loses ballot access this year by winning less than 3 percent of the vote for governor, it is unlikely that it will be heard from again — and the Libertarian is the third largest party in the country! This is our reality. Following conventional wisdom sounds like a nice recipe for keeping the Duopoly in power forever.

    We Ohioans sometimes are too quick to dismiss an idea because it seems impractical. In so doing, we can reject highly beneficial innovations. By letting us in and showing Ohioans that our Libertarian candidate has serious solutions to serious problems, we will gain the traction we need to grow and become a really serious contender the next time around.

    Harold D. Thomas, Chair
    Libertarian Party of Ohio


  2. Randy McNally

    October 3, 2018 at 8:30 PM

    This is probably the worst written op-ed I’ve ever seen. Build a case for why the Coke and Pepsi parties are dysfunctional, and running our government that way. At least you got that part right. Then end the article by saying, “That’s OK, we want to limit everyone’s choices to only those two. We don’t care what anyone else has to say.”

    I recommend you re-consider your persuasion technique.


  3. Josh Umbaugh

    October 3, 2018 at 8:48 PM

    This is ridiculous. We are a nation of Freedoms and Choices! So, other party candidates need to poll higher to be included. How does this happen when the news and almost all of the polls, and polling data don’t include them as an option? It’s impossible for any alternative candidates to gain any support with the current system. Tens of thousands of voters sign petitions to have their candidates name appear on the ballot, jumping many hurdles the 2 parties in power don’t need to do. And for all of this hard work, they aren’t acknowledged by the media, or the pollsters, and certainly not invited to debates. After all, you cannot be invited to a debate if your polling numbers aren’t high enough, in those polls in which you aren’t included. It’s an idiotic game, made to eliminate competition and choices. I thought our nation prided it’s self on freedom and choices. Why would we eradicate the foundation of our nation in our elections of all places?! Doesn’t anyone see the hypocrisy?!


  4. Shad Bosh

    October 3, 2018 at 9:20 PM

    Experts say my perspectives are irrelevant to the governor’s race in Ohio, so I thought I’d stop in and just say, “Hi.”


  5. Kerry J McCullough

    October 3, 2018 at 10:48 PM

    Are you SERIOUS? I am 60 years old. MY GENERATION (Baby Boomers) HAVE WRECKED THIS COUNTRY with a DUOPOLY.
    I thought you, of all people, would realize you need to rise up and get behind a 3rd party (Green or Libertarian) for the simple fact that you’re buying into the same duopoly that SCREWED THIS NATION UP and possibly your future up. INSTEAD, you decide to go ahead and think we had it right and stay with a duopoly. WE WERE WRONG, Thought you’d be educated enough to realize that and start getting behind parties that need to rise up and fight this bottleneck and overspending in Washington.
    But ALAS, you’re beholden to the ones who gave you money to go to school to educate you to buy into the same broken system.
    WAKE UP YOUNG ONES, We screwed up, we need you to rise up and get behind a party that will bring us out of the duopoly that is strangling this Republic.


  6. Team Teal

    October 3, 2018 at 11:29 PM

    Interesting that Zelina makes an appeal to rationality in making his argument. The Green party candidate this year, Constance Gadell-Newton, is all in favor of rationality, as evidenced by her having taken the Pro-Truth pledge. When the non-profit Intentional Insights developed the pledge, their goal was to encourage rational debate and greater civility in the political sphere.

    Mr. Thomas points out the same thing that we Greens often do when it comes to debates: exclusion of third party candidates is ultimately based on circular reasoning. “We exclude the candidate from the debate because they have no chance of winning” is how the claim goes. However, so many voters use the debates as a way of making their choice that excluding a candidate is tantamount to deciding _for_ the voters that the candidate should not be considered at all. Were the two-party system healthy and satisfactory to most voters, this might not be a problem for our democracy. However, that is not where we are at right now. Jill Stein has pointed recently to data from a 2017 Pew survey indicating that 3/5 of American voters believe the two party system is not enough, that a third party (at minimum!) is necessary. This data seems to be representative of Ohio as well, since about 3/5 of our registered voters are not affiliated with any party.

    The fact is that opening the debates to all statewide candidates on the ballot is good for democracy, because democracy must be practiced in order to thrive. Greens and our Libertarian counterparts like the free exchange of ideas. We go out of our way to search for new solutions about how we can work to address challenges we face as individuals and as a society. Plenty of voters lack the time or energy to go searching, but they would gladly hear a debate where all the candidates share their ideas at the same time. We find these third party candidates in community with them and do the work of ensuring they get ballot access. Why? Because we find their ideas compelling and believe others will too, if they just get a chance to learn more. This is pretty different from what the major parties do, generally plucking well-connected candidates from the top echelons of society, pouring millions of dollars from wealthy donors into their campaigns, and spending quite a bit of that money running studies to figure out what will “sell” the candidate to the voters.

    When it comes to what the candidates themselves do, democracy is also a verb. The best solutions for society’s challenges often come not from a single brilliant leader, but from a group that brings multiple ideas to the table and weighs their relative merits and drawbacks. Sometimes none of the initial solutions turn out to be very good, but thinking about those starting points gives way to new and better ideas. With fewer ideas at the very start, the options on the table are diminished, fewer new opportunities are generated in the process, and the “marketplace” of ideas becomes a “tug of war” instead. The brilliant leader and tug-of-war ideas play well to our ideas about individualism that we hold so dear, but the available research says that at the end of the day, groups that are more diverse are smarter overall. More microphones at the debate is therefore the best way to ensure that the best ideas for society see the light of day and thrive — even if a particular candidate never makes it into office.

    Democracy really is a team sport; what we tend to forget is that at the end of the day we are all on the same team!


  7. Troy Hoeflich

    October 4, 2018 at 10:39 AM

    You’ve said it yourself, and major party voters have said it as well: the binary choice is not working. By shunning minor parties from participating on the main stage we remain stuck on this hamster wheel. All the while you admit the failure of the two party system, you sit at your computer and tell us all that some how we should be ok with it and keep playing the coin toss? Absolutely disgusting.


  8. Christopher P. Host

    October 4, 2018 at 2:23 PM

    We are in the midst of one of the most controversial and emotionally charged elections in recent history. Regardless of which party you would normally support, wouldn’t it make sense to see and hear from all of the qualified candidates before making a final decision?
    We wouldn’t choose a babysitter for our kids without a vetting process, we wouldn’t mortgage a house without reviewing the lender options, hell, a lot of us won’t even go out to dinner without first checking yelp? Why in the world would it be ok to make a decision about who will be the next leader of our state without reviewing all of the options??


  9. Jim Knowlton

    October 9, 2018 at 7:27 PM

    At least one of the people who participate in the debates will not win, that is not an excuse to silence a political party that is on ballots nationwide.


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