Commission on Presidential Debates Considers Ditching 15% Rule for Third Party Candidates recently brought news of efforts by a coalition of high-profile civic leaders and current and former elected officials called Change the Rule to pressure the Commission on Presidential Debates to adjust its rule regarding the inclusion of third-party candidates in US presidential debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates, a private Republican-and-Democrat-run group which effectively controls the US presidential debate circuit, currently requires third-party candidates to obtain 15% support in 5 major public opinion polls before the presidential debate in question in order to be included, a feat considered impossible for a candidate lacking millions of dollars at the beginning of the campaign. As a result, third-party candidates that appear on enough ballots to potentially win the presidency, a challenging and expensive feat on its own, often do not appear in televised debates, giving them no chance to connect with voters. Change the Rule is working to encourage the CPD to adjust its rule such that any candidate that obtains ballot access in enough states to achieve 270 electoral votes and win the presidency would be included.

However, according to Ballot Access News, Change the Rule appears to be having some success. Ballot Access News‘ Richard Winger noticed some below-the-headlines quotes by Commission on Presidential Debates co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr. in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed by Michael Smerconish that seem to suggest that CPD is considering, at a minimum, ditching the 15% rule.

Said CPD co-chair Fahrenkopf, who also once served as chairman of the Republican National Committee, “We’ll look hard at [Change the Rule’s recommendation], but we also have three or four other proposals as to whether or not to do away with the 15 percent rule… We’ve got a special committee of the board that will review it.”

However, Fahrenkopf raised his own reservations that Change the Rule’s specific recommendation to base inclusion on ballot access could also unfairly benefit the wealthiest candidates. “We also have to realize that’s expensive to do this. Each state has different rules as to how many petition signatures you have to receive to get on the ballot. So it’s ready-made here for someone who’s a millionaire or billionaire who can spend the money to hire the people to go out and get the signatures. These are the kind of things that we’re plowing through before we make any decision one way or the other. So there are some issues that we’ve got to resolve,” he said.