Not since 1992 has a third-party candidate appeared in the presidential debates, but a lawsuit before the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia is hoping to end that.
Level The Playing Field, et. al. vs. FEC was heard before the federal court on Jan. 5, reports Business Insider. The plaintiffs argue that the Committee on Presidential Debates, which has organized the national debates since 1988, is run by members of the two leading parties, and is violating election laws by making rules that effectively exclude smaller parties.
Current CPD rules state that candidates must average 15 percent of voters' support across multiple national polls. In 1992, Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot was allowed to participate in the debates even though he only held 8 percent of the national vote. Since then, the debate's admittance threshold has been raised.
At the peak of his popularity, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson hit 12 percent support among voters nationally. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, never broke out of single-digit support.
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In an October opinion article for The New York Times, former Democratic presidential candidate and chair of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, argued the case for ranked-choice voting as a method of breaking the two-party hold on American politics.
"I learned to appreciate ranked-choice voting in 2000, when seeking re-election as governor of Vermont," Dean wrote. "I faced strong challenges from the Republican and Progressive Parties. With votes split three ways, I barely won a majority. In Vermont, the Legislature elects the governor if no one achieves a majority. I think the voters should do that. Major parties can take two approaches after such an election: fight the very existence of minor parties, or change laws to handle increased voter choice."
Also in October, after being denied participation in the national debates, Johnson grieved the loss.
"Really, really it just sucks -- no other way to put it," he said, notes the Los Angeles Times. "I'm the only third-party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states."