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Public Comment Sought in FEC Petition to Force CPD to Include ONE more Candidate in Presidential Debates

Presidential DebateIn a NOTICE TO THE PUBLIC published last week in the Federal Register, the Federal Election Commission is seeking comments on a Petition to revise its regulations to include one more candidate in the presidential and vice presidential debates.

The INTRODUCTION to the Petition states:

“It has been 22 years since the American public heard from someone other than the Democratic and Republican candidates during the presidential debates, even though a majority of Americans are eager for a candidate who presents an alternative to the two major parties. . . . The Commission on Presidential Debates (“CPD”) is preventing the American people from hearing the independent candidate they desire. The CPD denies voters the opportunity to hear an alternative to the Democratic and Republican nominees . . .” Petition for Rulemaking re: Sponsorship of Candidate Debates, page 1.

The Petition proposes the following New Rule for inclusion of only one additional candidate in the Presidential (and Vice-Presidential) Debates:

“On April 30 of an election year, any candidate, party, or nominating process with ballot access in states that collectively have at least 270 Electoral College votes would notify the CPD of that access. If there is more than one, then whoever has gathered the most signatures as part of the ballot access process will participate in the debates with the Democratic and Republican nominees.” Petition for Rulemaking re: Sponsorship of Candidate Debates, pages 23 and 24.

However, the Petition concludes with the following request:

“. . . The FEC should amend its debate sponsorship regulation, 11 C.F.R. § 110. 13, to:

“(A) preclude sponsors of general election presidential and vice-presidential debates from requiring that a candidate meet a polling threshold in order to be admitted to the debates; and
“(B) require that any sponsor of general election presidential and vice-presidential debates have a set of objective, unbiased criteria for debate admission that do not require candidates to satisfy a polling threshold to participate in debates.”
Petition for Rulemaking re: Sponsorship of Candidate Debates, page 26.

This would seem to allow the inclusion of every candidate who meets whatever “objective, unbiased criteria” one not based on a “polling threshold” that the FEC might choose to impose on the CPD.

The deadline for public comment is 15 December 2014.

IPR readers who wish to comment on this Petition may do so HERE and/or may choose to cut and paste the following URL for comments to share with others who may likewise wish to provide comment.

Additionally, while electronic comments are prefered, landmailed comments may be sent to:

Robert M. Knop, Assistant General Counsel
The Federal Election Commission
999 E Street NW.,
Washington, DC 20463.

Comments must include the full name and postal service address of the commenter, and of each commenter if filed jointly, or they will not be considered.

The full 281 page Petition for Rulemaking re: Sponsorship of Candidate Debates can be found HERE.

The Petition includes three “Expert Reports.” The first, Exhibit 3, is a 38-page research study by Dr. Clifford Young, President of Ipsos’ Public Affairs, the second, Exhibit 11, is a 29-page report by Douglas Schoen, a “political analyst, pollster, and author,” former “founding partner of Penn, Schoen, Berland,” and currently of “Schoen Consulting.” The third, Exhibit 28, is a 10-page report by Michael Arno, founder of Arno Political Consultants.


Mr. Robert M. Knop, Assistant General Counsel, or Ms. Jessica Selinkoff, Attorney, at the address above, or by phone at: (202) 694-1650 or (800) 424-9530.

The Petition was filed by an organization called, “Level the Playing Field.” Jeremy Licht and Alexandra Shapiro of the New York City based firm “Shapiro, Arato & Isserles LLP,” counsel.

“Level the Playing Field” does not appear to have a website, nor any otherwise immediately accessible information other than the contact information for its legal counsel provided in the cover letter to the petition:

Shapiro Letter

About Post Author

Joseph Buchman

Joe is a retired, formerly tenured professor of marketing and finance with a passion for adventure travel, chasing total solar eclipses, and Burning Man. He is a long-time volunteer with the Sundance Film Festival, former Chair of the Utah Libertarian Party, former Chair of the LP Platform Committee, and former Chair and three-term member of the LP's financial Audit Committee. Joe and Cindy have raised four highly successful children, several cats, and yet have generally failed miserably with every houseplant ever gifted to them.


  1. Eric J Blitz Eric J Blitz November 24, 2014

    @David. Requiring ballot access in all 50 states encourages any state to be the veto to inclusion, by changing their ballot access standards to exclude third parties. We already have that in effect with a state like OK, but even if with the passage of such a rule a third party could marshal resources to seek qualification in the remaining state, the history of exclusionary ballot access laws is that that state, or another, would merely raise the bar again.

    Far better to say that if you have ballot access in enough states to qualify for 270 electoral results, then your party is included.

  2. Jed Ziggler Jed Ziggler November 21, 2014

    “(the .5 for Michigan’s two Gary Johnsons)”

    Actually, the other Gary Johnson wasn’t on the ballot in Michigan, either. All of GJ’s Michigan votes were write-ins. Johnson was on the ballot in 48 states and DC.

  3. Andy Craig Andy Craig November 21, 2014

    The LP was able to get and 48.5+DC (the .5 for Michigan’s two Gary Johnsons), from a post-mid-term starting point of 27 automatic states in 2010 (per Richard Winger). It seems highly likely that the LP will be the only party to achieve 50-state ballot access for President in 2016. The LP has managed it before, and should be able to do so regularly in the years ahead.

    The Greens, like they were in 2012, will probably be the only other party with 270+ EV ballot access for their Presidential nominee. But they were only on the ballot in 36 states, with 83% of the population. Even if they get that up to 40, that’s a decent chunk of the country missing, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to draw the line to our advantage there.

    In 2012, we had to go with the 270+ criteria because of a couple of bad decisions in OK and MI. But if the Libertarian candidate has 50+DC, and no other third-party candidate does, I have no problem with us running with that criteria and pushing it as hard as we can. The purpose of the LP isn’t to promote the Green and other alternative parties, they are as much (arguably more) our competitors. “The only third choice on the ballot in all 50 states” was something Johnson was right to frame himself as, up until it became clear that it was only 49 states.

  4. David David November 21, 2014

    I agree that all candidates on the ballot in all 50 states should be in the debates. Pure and simple.

  5. Joshua Katz Joshua Katz November 21, 2014

    If the point is to ask a federal agency to require inclusiveness, why not just say “all candidates with a mathematical chance of winning?” What’s the point of specifying three?

    Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors – probably more now, actually.

  6. Joseph Buchman Joseph Buchman Post author | November 21, 2014


    “A fairer way to decide which candidate should be included in the debates would be the candidate with access to the most electoral votes and to allow all candidates who are on all fifty state {and D.C.’s} ballots to be in the debates.”

    I agree. I imagine this is an oversight in their Petition, one that could/should be addressed in comments to the FEC by you and others, and one they might well consider changing exactly as you have outlined here.


  7. Jim Polichak from Long Island Jim Polichak from Long Island November 21, 2014

    This portion of the proposal {whoever has gathered the most signatures as part of the ballot access process will participate in the debates } will penalize the most successful minority parties because each one has spent the last decade doing their best to obtain ballot status for as many states that they can primarily so that they can spend their time, efforts, and money seeking votes rather than signatures.
    The Libertarian Party is now on the ballot for president in 2016 in thirty states. Meaning that in these states they have to collect far fewer signatures than any party that is not on the ballot due to receiving a high enough percentage of the votes in 2012.
    I haven’t been able to find a list of these 30 states but there’s a chance that they will give the Libertarians access to well over 200 electoral votes. So an independent candidate will have to collect about 200,000 signatures to get on the ballot in Texas and Florida the Libertarians will more likely than not have to collect far fewer than 200,000 in all of the 30 states in which they are already on the ballot.
    The Green and Constitution Parties are also already on multiple states ballots for 2016.
    If adopted as proposed we could see a situation where all three of these parties are on the ballots of states in excess of 300 or 350 electoral votes but the candidate on the debate platform is an independent who qualifies in a total number of states with just barely 270 electoral votes because of the number of signatures required to get on those ballots.
    A fairer way to decide which candidate should be included in the debates would be the candidate with access to the most electoral votes and to allow all candidates who are on all fifty state {and D.C.’s} ballots to be in the debates.

  8. Jed Ziggler Jed Ziggler November 20, 2014

    An improvement, but still ultimately flawed. The Presidential debates should include all candidates on the ballot in enough states (or states plus DC) to be eligible to win, not just two or three.

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