Free and equal: Drawing attention to the "voices in the trenches"

Part one of my interview with Free and Equal founder Christina Tobin. Photo: Christina Tobin and Larry King moderate a third-party presidential debate

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2013 ― Free and Equal is an organization dedicated to the reformation of America’s electoral systems through the encouragement and support of third party and independent candidates, and their ideals.

In part one of my interview with founder Christina Tobin, we discuss the birth and mission of Free and Equal and their continuing efforts to bring transparency and fairness to the electoral process.


Kevin Kelly: For those who are unfamiliar with your organization, Free and Equal, please briefly describe its mission and your role.

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Christina Tobin: I’m the founder and chair of Free and Equal Elections, and we’re truly a nonpartisan ― I like to call us an all-partisan. Our focus is to try to break the stranglehold of the two party system, and reform our electoral system throughout the United States.

I’ve firsthand seen the problems within our electoral system since 17 years of age when I saw my dad out in Illinois, Jim Tobin, wrongfully get knocked off the ballot when he ran for Governor in ’98. He got his 60,000 signatures, and I learned, wow, third parties have to get in 25,000 while the D’s and R’s have to only get in 5,000? Why are there five times as many signatures needed for voices in the trenches to get on the ballot? About a couple of years later I got him on the ballot when he ran for lieutenant Governor, then Ralph Nader gave me a call. I crossed the spectrum and worked with him in ’04, got the Green Party on the ballot in Illinois in ’06, then in ’08 I was a national ballot coordinator for Ralph Nader.

I would’ve been for Dr. Ron Paul as well, simultaneously, had he ran for office, but then I learned from Dr. Ron Paul directly that the number one reason he didn’t run for President as an Independent or third party in ’08 is because of ballot access barriers.

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After doing that job for Ralph Nader in ’08, that was the beginning of Free and Equal. We held our first debate in ’08 between Ralph Nader, Independent, and Chuck Baldwin, from the Constitution Party, and it just grew from there. We spent years and years of work moderating probably six gubernatorial debates throughout the years, holding forums with Cato, UW Madison, debates at the University of Chicago, and just met so many amazing leaders.

Then of course we had the Larry King debate last year, which was a real big game changer. It changed the national dialogue in opening the debates, and now we’re taking it up to the next level for Free and Equal. We’re truly geared to kick off a powerful, positive, peaceful solution-based movement, and that begins on June 22 at the United We Stand Festival in Little Rock Arkansas.

Kelly: As you just mentioned, your group garnered much attention during the presidential cycle when you organized a series of debates that featured four major third party candidates. Do you believe that those debates helped spur more of a national dialogue on the plight of third parties?

Tobin: Actually it’s beyond that. The experience with the presidential debates was uncanny. It was very clear to me that the Commission on Presidential Debates was committing a fraud on the voters. I mean $50-60 million pumped in from a few powerful individuals, the same who happen to run the Federal Reserve, which is a private institution.

The Commission itself is a fraud, the Federal Reserve has essentially been stealing from Americans since it was created in 1913, you piece this all together and you learn that what happens to this $50-60 million is the Commission, which is run by the former chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties, they use this money to run ads on ABC and CBS and in return they sponsor the Commission on Presidential Debates.

This is a very unhealthy system, and the Commission is essentially used as a tool, a tool by a few powerful people to provoke war on all of these needless divisive issues throughout the United States. The mainstream media for the most part didn’t cover the debates, but the international media did. That was pretty interesting. I mean, RT America, Al-Jazeera, and even C-Span dropped in there. Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC spoke about it, even Jimmy Kimmel applauded it.

We turned some heads.

I definitely learned that Free and Equal, as much as we plan on putting the Commission out of business in 2016, is so much deeper and bigger than the Commission.

Every problem stems from having the wrong people in office, Democrats and Republicans alike. Finally, I didn’t really see it as a third party debate. The media called it a “third party debate”; it was really an open debate. I’ve been a huge advocate for third parties for the last five or ten years, but I realized in 2010 that even third parties themselves can become infiltrated as they get bigger.

Parties attract people who want power, and there’s a reason why our forefathers didn’t mention parties in the Constitution. Here at Free and Equal, we’re kicking off a movement to inspire people to run for office in the 2014 race. People 18 to 28 [are being] seen as the individuals that they are, not hiding behind parties, but [supporting] independent candidates. With the power of social media and technology, we’ll be able to shift the power back to the individual.

For more information on Free and Equal’s event in Little Rock, Arkansas on June 22nd, please visit United We Stand

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Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly is currently a college student majoring in History and Political Science. His writings have appeared in The Daily Local, Lew’s blog, The Washington Times,, and Freedom’s Phoenix Online Digital Magazine. He has been a popular guest political contributor to numerous national radio shows across the country, offering his perspective on a wide array of issues. 

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