Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District Candidates Reach Across Party Lines to Exclude Others From Democratic Participation

A few years back, the local League of Women Voters hosted a debate between 2nd Congressional candidates Jill Long Thompson and Chris Chocola at Bethel College. I asked the women working at the table why the Libertarian candidate wasn’t also going to be on stage that night. One woman said she wasn’t aware there was another candidate running for that office. Another urged me to join the League of Women Voters to make sure omissions like this did not occur in the future.

In 2006, the League hosted a debate between the candidates for Secretary of State. At the urging of the local Green Party, the Green Party’s write-in candidate for Secretary of State was invited to and included in that debate held at IU South Bend. I was so impressed by the commitment of the League to include all eligible candidates and to make the debates completely non-partisan, I joined the local chapter.

Since then, I’ve witnessed the great lengths the League of Women Voters exerts themselves to remain non-partisan and to ensure equal participation of all candidates in “Meet The Candidate” events. In addition to ensuring voter participation and other non-partisan activism, the local League has also taken up the important work of pressing the Election Board to fully count all legally cast votes, including write-in votes this Election Day.

Which is why I am deeply disappointed with the League’s decision to hold a “debate” with only two of the three candidates whose names will appear on this year’s ballot for Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District race. Libertarian candidate, Mark Vogel did not share the stage with the other two candidates. According to an article by the South Bend Tribune’s Ed Ronco, “debate rules are set by the two major party candidates. Two of those criteria are that the candidate is waging an active campaign and that his party has ‘generated significant voter interest’ by having their party’s secretary of state nominee receive 10 percent or more of the most recent vote.”

League President Lisa Plencner is quoted as saying the League wanted to see Vogel in the debate, but more than that, they wanted to have a debate. “There was no way at this late date that we were going to make that a deal breaker,” she said.

Let me get this straight. The League of Women Voters, an historically non-partisan group, works hard to organize a televised event to help educate voters about their choices for candidates. This event is essentially free advertising for the candidates, yet the “two major party candidates” have their own debate rules that exclude other candidates. The circular illogic of these so-called “major-candidate debate rules” is yet another way the two parties coalesce to become one when their power base is challenged. They successfully did this in Indiana as they’ve worked together over the past 60 years to make ballot access increasingly difficult for any other party other than themselves.

In this case, the League of Women Voters capitulated to the undemocratic demands of two candidates who were invited to enjoy a free forum to present their ideas. I was involved in other League projects, so I didn’t have the time in my schedule to add being on the congressional debate committee. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have believed, given the recent history of inclusion of all candidates in local League forums, the issue of including all candidates would have been in question. In hindsight, I wish I would have somehow cut something out of my schedule to help coordinate this Congressional debate. Then, I could have at least expressed my opposition to going ahead, as a non-partisan group, with a forum that allowed the invitees to set partisan parameters on a League-sponsored event.