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Over the years, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has taken criticism concerning the process used to determine which candidates are allowed to participate in the official debates. Currently, as it stands, (1) a candidate must be on enough ballots to win the necessary number of electoral voters to secure the White House, and (2) poll at 15% or higher in an average of five national polls. It is the second rule which many label as “exclusionary” since it favors the major party candidates.

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In an effort to open the process beyond two parties, a bipartisan group, called Change The Rule, recently sent a letter to the CPD calling for third-party candidates to gain access on the debate stage. It appears, as a response to some of this criticism, the CPD will be launching a formal online system for groups to submit proposals and ideas to the commission.

Statement from the CPD:

The non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is committed to sponsoring and producing general election debates in 2016 that fulfill its voter education mission. These debates offer the only opportunity for the nation to hear the leading candidates answer the same questions on critical issues.

Since its inception in 1987, the CPD has incorporated innovations that improve the educational value of the debates. Single moderators, expanded time frames for discussion, and other steps reflect the CPD’s ongoing efforts to ensure that each debate focuses maximum time on the candidates and their views.

As it has done in the past, in planning for 2016, the CPD will seek input on various elements of the debates, including the criteria used to determine who will be invited to debate, what formats will be used, and ways to enhance these civic forums. The CPD board will soon announce a transparent online process for receiving and reviewing submissions from any organization or individual who wishes to share their ideas. We have already received a number of proposals from interested groups and look forward to further study those and other initiatives. [Emphasis added]

I emphasized the last sentence since that is the most notable portion here. Whether or not these groups seeking to “open the debates” will succeed is another story, but I think the CPD is feeling some pressure to consider some changes. Just the fact that they are responding tells me they’re feeling the heat on this issue.

America is a diverse land with political views that spill far outside the two-party system. It’s hard to argue that allowing more reasonable voices in the process can be a bad thing. The cynic in me says the CPD is opening a formal online process merely so the Commission themselves have a formal online process through which to reject ideas. We’ll see if anything comes it in preparations for 2016.

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