Last week, Florida became the laughing stock of the nation once again when the televised gubernatorial debate was postponed because of a fan. The bigger story may be that the event organizers, Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida, excluded Libertarian Party candidate, Adrian Wyllie, because he did not meet the minimum polling threshold of 15%. Despite an 0ptimus poll, which showed Wyllie trending 13%, which would have put him within the margin of error of the polling threshold, Wyllie was still excluded because the poll was not released prior to September 30. Wyllie filed suit in the Southern District of Florida to be included, but a federal judge sided with event organizers:
U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn said Wyllie did not meet the requirements for gaining access to the debate hosted by the Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida. Cohn said the private nonprofit debate sponsors did not change the access rules by increasing the polling threshold required for a qualified candidate, 15 percent.
Also, Cohn ruled, Wyllie’s exclusion was not a violation of his First or Fourteenth Amendment rights. Wyllie argued that, because the event is to be held at the publicly funded BrowardCollege, he had a free-speech right to be onstage with Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist.
But Cohn said BrowardCollege was merely the location and that the event is a “nonpublic forum,” according to case law.
Cohn said the defendants “offer legitimate reasons” for excluding candidates like Wyllie and six others because the goal of the debate is “to provide a forum to inform Florida voters through the meaningful exchange of ideas among those gubernatorial candidates with a reasonable chance of winning the election.”
In an election where both the Republican and Democrat candidates are largely unpopular, who is to say that Wyllie does not stand a “reasonable chance of winning the election?” A recent CNN/ORC International poll
found that neither major candidate has more than a 50% favorable rating. The same poll has Wyllie trending 9%, with Rick Scott and Charlie Crist in a statistical tie
at 44% a piece among likely voters. Scott and Crist’s low favorability ratings suggest that many likely voters will be voting for “the lesser of two evils” because they don’t realize that there are other options.
If a potential candidate has qualified for the ballot, should they not have the opportunity to be heard by the voters? While I agree that the event organizers, who are private entities, should be allowed to invite or exclude whomever they choose, I think that it is bad policy. To exclude a candidate who is polling in or close to double digits, with a fraction of the funding of the major party candidates, denies the voters the right to hear all sides of the issues. (To see all of the candidates’ fundraising figures, click here
Florida is not alone. Robert Sarvis, a Libertarian candidate in Virginia, was excluded from the gubernatorial debates
last year despite polling 9% at the time. In Minnesota
, Independence Party candidate, Hannah Nicollet, was excluded from two of the four televised debates despite a tradition of including third party candidates in Minnesota. Some states have been more willing to allow third party and independent candidates to participate . Earlier this month, Idaho
included Libertarian and Independent candidates in their gubernatorial debate. There is no reason to exclude Wyllie, or other third party candidates, from the debate other than to protect the interests of the two major parties. Voters deserve better. We deserve to hear from all eligible candidates and to hear all sides of the issues.
The third and final Florida gubernatorial debate
will be held tonight at 7:00 pm e.s.t. and will be hosted by CNN. This post is not an endorsement of Adrian Wyllie nor his campaign, but an attempt to start a dialogue on the issue of open debate.
(Editor’s Note: The post was changed after publication to reflect that the debate is tonight, not tomorrow night –Kevin)