Speed Reads

Them's the rules

Sorry, but it's way too late for a viable third-party campaign

About 1 in 4 Americans says he or she would vote third-party or not vote at all in a Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump match-up, but, realistically, it's too late for a viable third-party candidate — if one was ever feasible at all.

That's the case for a number of institutional reasons, like complicated ballot access rules with which smaller parties struggle to comply or the way America's voting structure disproportionately punishes every candidate who isn't first past the post.

But perhaps the single most frustrating factor in why a viable independent run is all but impossible is the baseline for inclusion in the general election debates: A candidate must demonstrate 15 percent national support to be invited to the debate state. But it is incredibly difficult to gain that support before appearing on stage — the debates are organized by Democratic and Republican Party leadership, and at this point in the game a third-party candidate probably does not have time to raise his or her name-recognition to a level that would guarantee admittance.

"The game is rigged," says former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the 2012 Libertarian Party nominee who is seeking the nod again in 2016. "There's no way a third-party candidate can compete unless they're on the debate stage, and you can't get there unless you're in the polls." Johnson recently hit 11 percent in one Monmouth University poll but has struggled to have his name included in many surveys.