LAS VEGAS — Members of the Green and Libertarian Party movements gathered at the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas on the evening of the final presidential debate, frustrated at the lack of public exposure for their candidates.
The third party groups made their case to the public assembled outside of a debate in which they felt they were unjustly denied access. For the Greens, the focus was on driving up support for their third party option in a state like Nevada, where they had just fallen short.
For the Libertarians, the focus was on protesting the Commission on Presidential Debates, who they felt had only protected Republican and Democratic interests in their decision to keep Gary Johnson off the stage.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to be surprised by what they hear tonight,” said Nicholas Sarwark, national chairman of the Libertarian Party. “You have this hour and a half of these two people arguing that the other is not fit to be president, and they’re both right.”
Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, handled his own protest of the event by doing a live interview the night before with Facebook before attending to a packed audience at a theater on the Vegas Strip.
The night of the debate, Johnson flew to Los Angeles to make an appearance with Jimmy Kimmel. The Libertarian, who has ballot access in all fifty states, has repeatedly petitioned and sued the CPD for equal access to the debate stage.
His lawsuit effort, which was joined by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, was dismissed in August. Since then, there has been a struggle to keep the election effort going.
Without access to the debate, the Libertarians believe their numbers have been hurt as people have been too concerned to consider an alternative. Johnson has a lead among veterans and has been the second most popular candidate with young voters.
“It’s their voices that are being silenced by excluding him from the debate,” Sarwark said.
His concern about silencing has been shared by other third party voters, who have seen a historic shift from the two parties.
The Green Party has taken in much of its support from former Bernie Sanders supporters, according to Bill Huggins, an executive member of the Nevada Party. It was his opinion that the independent senator from Vermont helped to galvanize a political movement that was wasted on a candidate like Hillary Clinton. Since Sanders conceded to Clinton, the Green Party has been looking to gather disenfranchised liberal voters to its base.
“I think it’s worth the fight,” Huggins said. “If we weren’t spending all this money on foreign wars 10,000 miles away, we could put it back into our communities.”
He said the effort now is to keep building toward ballot access. Stein’s candidacy has been important in spreading general awareness about the Green Party.
Huggins also said that without a discussion of the Paris accords and the environment during the presidential debates, a major issue was being overlooked.
While there was no noticeable presence of Evan McMullin supporters in Las Vegas, recent polling in Utah has seen the independent conservative candidate jump 4 points ahead of Trump in state polls. McMullin now has a competitive chance at taking Utah, with 31 percent of the vote, compared with Trump’s 27 percent and Clinton’s 24 percent, according to a poll by Emerson College.
One of the most consistent points among third party supporters has been in making progress towards the future. Regardless of the results of the election, strong showings have heartened the various outsiders and added to a hope of denying either major party candidate the popular mandate by garnering a percentage of the electoral votes.
“You also have a situation where you have to choose between two horrible candidates,” said Jason Weinman, National Youth Director for Johnson. “You have to deal with the popular mandate that says, ‘Yes, I want Trump and I want all the baggage that comes with it,’ or ‘I want Hillary and all the baggage that comes along with her.’ If we get a strong showing of 5 or 6 or 7 percent in the general, then they don’t have that mandate.”