Commission on Presidential Debates Announces 2016 Nonpartisan Candidate Selection Criteria; Forms Working Group on Format

Oct 29, 2015



Each election cycle, hundreds of individuals declare their candidacy for the Office of President of the United States, including many who do not seek the nomination of a major political party. Federal Election Commission regulations require a debate sponsor to make its candidate selection decisions on the basis of "pre-established, objective" criteria. After a thorough and wide-ranging review of alternative approaches to determining who is invited to participate in the general election debates it will sponsor, the nonpartisan, non-profit Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has released its 2016 Nonpartisan Candidate Selection Criteria. A copy of the criteria is attached.

Under the 2016 criteria, in addition to being Constitutionally eligible, candidates must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College, and have a level of support of at least 15% of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations' most recently publicly-reported results at the time of the determination. The polls to be relied upon will be selected based on the quality of the methodology employed, the reputation of the polling organizations and the frequency of the polling conducted. CPD will identify the selected polling organizations well in advance of the time the criteria are applied.

The CPD's determination with respect to participation in the CPD's first-scheduled debate will be made after Labor Day 2016, but sufficiently in advance of the first-scheduled debate to allow for orderly planning. Invitations to participate in the vice-presidential debate will be extended to the running mates of each of the presidential candidates qualifying for participation in the CPD's first presidential debate. Invitations to participate in the second and third of the CPD's scheduled presidential debates will be based upon satisfaction of the same multiple criteria prior to each debate.

The CPD adopted its 2016 criteria based on the recommendations of a working group of its Board chaired by former League of Women Voters president Dorothy Ridings, who serves as a CPD Director. Ridings stated, "We considered a wide array of approaches to the candidate selection issue. We concluded that CPD serves its voter education mission best when, in the final weeks of the campaign, based on pre-established, published, objective and transparent criteria, it identifies those individuals whose public support places them among the leading candidates and invites them to debate the issues of the day. We also concluded that the best available measure of public support is high-quality public opinion polling conducted near the time of the debates."

Ridings noted that, "Under the CPD's nonpartisan criteria, no candidate or nominee of a party receives an automatic invitation. The CPD's objective criteria are applied on the same basis to all declared candidates, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof." Ridings explained, "During the course of the campaign, the candidates are afforded many opportunities in a great variety of forums to advance their candidacies. The purpose of the criteria is to identify those candidates whose support from the electorate places them among the candidates who have a realistic chance of being elected President of the United States." Ridings added, "The realistic chance need not be overwhelming, but it must be more than theoretical."

CPD Co-Chairs Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. and Michael D. McCurry noted that, "We are mindful of the changes in the electorate and the large number of voters who now self-identify as independents. We believe our candidate selection criteria appropriately address this dynamic. The CPD's criteria make participation open to any candidate, regardless of the candidate's party affiliation or status as an independent, in whom the public has demonstrated significant interest and support." The Co-Chairs further explained, "It is appropriate for a debate sponsor to take the campaign as it finds it in the final weeks leading up to Election Day. The CPD's debates are not intended to serve as a springboard for a candidate with only very modest support. Participation in the debates is determined by the level of public support a candidate enjoys as Election Day approaches." The criteria for 2016 were adopted by a majority vote of the CPD board.

Debate Format Working Group

The Co-Chairs also announced that members of the CPD board of directors would form a working group to study format innovation for the 2016 debates. The CPD has been a leader in format innovation and has initiated many changes to the format of the general election debates. The CPD has worked steadily to encourage meaningful candidate exchanges and in-depth discussion of the issues. Innovations over the years have included both single moderator debates and seated debates to facilitate in-depth exchanges and greater follow up on critical issues. In 2012, to foster extended discussion of critical issues, the first and third presidential debates used six 15-minute segments to discuss major domestic and foreign policy topics, respectively; the topics were selected and announced beforehand by the debate moderators in order to emphasize the focus on major issues.

The 2016 working group on format will review ways to build on that model of using significant time blocks to examine critical issues. The working group also will examine options for town meeting with a view toward using social media to provide citizen input. Use of social media during the primary debates will be studied to understand how it can enhance the educational value of the general election debates. The CPD will continue to work with the White House pool and other media to encourage the broad streaming of debate coverage online.

The CPD will announce format in the spring of 2016 and the moderators in the summer of 2016. The CPD, which is a 501(c)(3) organization, does not receive government, party or PAC funding of any kind.

2016 Debate Sites and Dates

On September 23, 2015, the CPD announced sites and dates for the 2016 debates, scheduling the first one in September in light of early voting. The schedule is:

First presidential debate, Wright State University, Dayton, OH, September 26, 2016

Vice presidential debate, Longwood University, Farmville, VA, October 4, 2016

Second presidential debate, Washington University in St. Louis, MO, October 9, 2016

Third presidential debate, University of Nevada Las Vegas, NV, October 19, 2016

The 2016 backup site is Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY.

COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES'

NONPARTISAN CANDIDATE SELECTION CRITERIA

FOR 2016 GENERAL ELECTION DEBATE PARTICIPATION

A. INTRODUCTION

The mission of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (the "CPD") is to ensure, for the benefit of the American electorate, that general election debates are held every four years between the leading candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States. The CPD sponsored a series of such debates in each of the past seven general elections, and has begun the planning, preparation, and organization of a series of nonpartisan debates among leading candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency in the 2016 general election. As in prior years, the CPD's voter educational activities will be conducted in accordance with all applicable legal requirements, including regulations of the Federal Election Commission that require that debate sponsors extend invitations to debate based on the application of "pre-established, objective" criteria.

The goal of the CPD's debates is to afford the members of the public an opportunity to sharpen their views, in a focused debate format, of those candidates from among whom the next President and Vice President will be selected. In each of the last seven elections, there were scores of declared candidates for the Presidency, excluding those seeking the nomination of one of the major parties. During the course of the campaign, the candidates are afforded many opportunities in a great variety of forums to advance their candidacies. In order most fully and fairly to achieve the educational purposes of its debates, the CPD has developed nonpartisan, objective criteria upon which it will base its decisions regarding selection of the candidates to participate in its 2016 debates. The purpose of the criteria is to identify those candidates whose support among the electorate places them among the candidates who have a realistic chance of being elected President of the United States. The realistic chance need not be overwhelming, but it must be more than theoretical.

In connection with the 2016 general election, the CPD will apply three criteria to each declared candidate to determine whether that candidate qualifies for inclusion in one or more of the CPD's debates. The criteria are (1) constitutional eligibility, (2) ballot access, and (3) electoral support. All three criteria must be satisfied before a candidate will be invited to debate.

B. 2016 NONPARTISAN SELECTION CRITERIA

The CPD's nonpartisan criteria for selecting candidates to participate in the 2016 general election presidential debates are:

1. EVIDENCE OF CONSTITUTIONAL ELIGIBILITY

The CPD's first criterion requires satisfaction of the eligibility requirements of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. The requirements are satisfied if the candidate:

a. is at least 35 years of age;

b. is a Natural Born Citizen of the United States and a resident of the United States for fourteen years; and

c. is otherwise eligible under the Constitution.

2. EVIDENCE OF BALLOT ACCESS

The CPD's second criterion requires that the candidate qualify to have his/her name appear on enough state ballots to have at least a mathematical chance of securing an Electoral College majority in the 2016 general election. Under the Constitution, the candidate who receives a majority of votes in the Electoral College, at least 270 votes, is elected President regardless of the popular vote.

3. INDICATORS OF ELECTORAL SUPPORT

The CPD's third criterion requires that the candidate have a level of support of at least 15% (fifteen percent) of the national electorate as determined by five national public opinion polling organizations selected by CPD, using the average of those organizations' most recent publicly-reported results at the time of the determination. CPD will rely on the advice of a recognized expert or experts in public opinion polling in determining the polls it will rely upon. The polls to be relied upon will be selected based on the quality of the methodology employed, the reputation of the polling organizations and the frequency of the polling conducted. CPD will identify the selected polling organizations well in advance of the time the criteria are applied.

C. APPLICATION OF CRITERIA

The CPD's determination with respect to participation in the CPD's first-scheduled debate will be made after Labor Day 2016, but sufficiently in advance of the first-scheduled debate to allow for orderly planning. Invitations to participate in the vice-presidential debate will be extended to the running mates of each of the presidential candidates qualifying for participation in the CPD's first presidential debate. Invitations to participate in the second and third of the CPD's scheduled presidential debates will be based upon satisfaction of the same multiple criteria prior to each debate.

Adopted: October 28, 2015


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