The CDC Proposal
To ensure democratic and robust debate, the Citizens' Debate Commission would employ the following schedule, candidate selection criteria and general format requirements:
The Citizens' Debate Commission proposes five 90-minute presidential debates
and one 90-minute vice-presidential debate.
The Citizens' Debate Commission would employ criteria developed by the Appleseed Citizens' Task Force on Fair Debates, a project of the Appleseed Electoral Reform Project at American University Washington College of Law. The Appleseed Task Force on Fair Debates consists of numerous civic leaders, professors and elected officials, including: John C. Brittain, Dean of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law; John Bonifaz, Executive Director of the National Voting Rights Institute; Steve Cobble, former Political Director of the National Rainbow Coalition; Edward Still, Director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Rob Ritchie, Executive Director of The Center for Voting and Democracy.
The Appleseed Task Force criteria invite all candidates on enough state ballots to win an electoral college majority to participate in the debates if either 1) they reach five percent in national polls, or 2) a majority of eligible voters would like to see them included in the presidential debates, according to polls. The Appleseed criteria ensure that popular third party challengers are allowed to participate without drowning out the voices of the two leading contenders for the presidency. In 1988, no third-party candidates would have met the Appleseed criteria. In 1992 and 1996, only Ross Perot would have met the Appleseed threshold. In 2000, only Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan would have met the criteria. In 2004, only Ralph Nader would have met the criteria. In 2008, only Bob Barr would have met the criteria.
The two prongs of the Appleseed criteria that trigger inclusion - five percent and majority support - are rooted in democratic principles and federal law. Elected officials codified five percent in the Federal Election Campaign Act, and taxpayers finance candidates whose parties attract five percent of the popular vote. The second prong of the Appleseed criteria - support for inclusion from a majority of eligible voters - is inherently democratic.
The Citizens' Debate Commission would employ the following format rules
for the presidential debates:
- Follow-up questions must be permitted. The League of Women Voters always required follow-up questions, which allow panelists and moderators to challenge evasive or misleading responses.
- At least one debate must include candidate-to-candidate questioning. In every Memoranda of Understanding, the major party campaigns have prohibited candidate-to-candidate questioning. Debate would be furthered if the candidates directly questioned and responded to each other.
- At least two debates must include rebuttals and surrebuttals. The League of Women Voters often employed rebuttals and surrebuttals to elicit genuine debate between the candidates.
- Response times must not be overly restrictive. In 1984, the League of Women Voters allocated 4.5 minutes to each candidate for every question and answer sequence. In 1996, the CPD restricted the candidates to just 90 seconds for every question and answer sequence.
- Candidates may only exercise a limited number of vetoes concerning the selection of moderators and panelists. The League selected stimulating moderators, such as Bill Moyers. The CPD, by contrast, allows the candidates to handpick deferential panelists and moderators.
The Citizens' Debate Commission
would also propose the following four basic formats for the presidential
- Two Single Moderator debates: The single moderator format focuses attention on the candidates, rather than on the questioners. The Citizens' Debate Commission would require that the single moderator debates include direct candidate-to-candidate questioning, loose time restrictions and minimal interference from the moderator.
- Authentic Town-Hall debate: The town-hall format is particularly popular with viewers because it raises issues that the public wants addressed in terms accessible to everyday voters. The Citizens' Debate Commission would host an authentic town-hall debate that prohibits the screening of questions and includes a representative sampling of Americans in the audience.
- Youth debate: The Citizens' Debate Commission would introduce the first-ever youth-run and youth-oriented presidential debate. A youth debate could inspire millions of young adults to tune into the presidential debates, raise atypical subject matters for national discourse, and prevent the candidates from anticipating the debate questions.
- Panel debate: Historically, panel debates have allowed educated reporters to question the candidates' policy plans and backgrounds. However, rather than the panel consisting exclusively of reporters, the Citizens' Debate Commission would assemble a diverse panel of academic, civic, religious, union and business leaders to ask questions.
Failed Legal and Legislative Remedies
The CDC Proposal