Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Citizens' Debate Commission

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The Citizens' Debate Commission (CDC) is a nonpartisan American organization, formed in 2004, that was established to sponsor future general election presidential debates.


The CDC consists of national civic leaders from a multitude of political orientations and has an advisory board composed of over fifty civic organizations that it claims broadly reflects the composition and concerns of the electorate.

The CDC states that it was formed because the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) fails to adequately serve voters' interests and charges that the CPD, which was created by the Republican and Democratic parties, secretly awards control of the presidential debates to the Republican and Democratic candidates, thereby limiting voter choice and restricting subject matters of political discourse.

The CDC claims to aim to host presidential debates that serve American voters, not political parties, first. The CDC promises to set fair candidate selection criteria, feature innovative and engaging formats, and resist anti-democratic demands of participating candidates. The CDC also promises to operate with full transparency and reverse the decline in debate viewership (Under the tenure of the CPD, debate viewership has dropped by over 25 million viewers.)

Participant selection criteria

The Citizens' Debate Commission (CDC) employs criteria developed by the Appleseed Citizens' Task Force on Fair Debates, a project of the Appleseed Electoral Reform Project at American University's Washington College of Law.

The Appleseed Task Force criteria includes all candidates on enough state ballots to win an electoral college majority who either 1) register at five percent in national polls or 2) register a majority in national polls asking eligible voters which candidates they would like to see included in the presidential debates.

The Appleseed criteria attempts to ensure that popular third party challengers are allowed to participate without drowning out the voices of the two leading contenders for the presidency. In 1984 and 1988, only the major party candidates fulfilled the Appleseed criteria; in 1996 and 1992, only H. Ross Perot and the major party candidates managed to meet the Appleseed threshold; and in 2000, only Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan and the major party candidates satisfied the criteria. In 2016, only Gary Johnson met the Appleseed criteria

The CDC says the two prongs of the Appleseed criteria that trigger inclusion, five percent and majority support, are sensible because they are rooted in democratic principles and federal law. The five percent threshold matches the public financing threshold for minor parties, which is the only legislative standard for measuring the viability of non-major parties. 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 Citizens' Debate Commission advocates the following format stipulations for future presidential debates:

  1. Follow-up questions must be permitted in every debate.
  2. At least one debate must include candidate-to-candidate questioning.
  3. At least two debates must include rebuttals and surrebuttals.
  4. Response times must not be overly restrictive.
  5. Candidates may only exercise a limited number of vetoes concerning the selection of moderators and panelists.

The Citizens' Debate Commission also proposes the following four basic formats for future presidential debates:

  1. Two single-moderator debates.
  2. Authentic town-hall debate.
  3. Youth debate.
  4. Panel debate.


The following serve or have served on the CDC:

  • John B. Anderson, former U.S. Representative, independent 1980 presidential candidate, chair of the Center for Voting and Democracy;
  • Bay Buchanan, president of The American Cause
  • Veronica de la Garza, executive director of the Youth Vote Coalition;
  • Norman Dean, director of Friends of the Earth;
  • George Farah, director of Open Debates and author of No Debate;
  • Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch;
  • Tom Gerety, director, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law;
  • Jehmu Greene, director of Rock the Vote;
  • Alan Keyes, former U.S. Ambassador;
  • Jeff Milchen, director of;
  • Larry Noble, former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission;
  • Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council;
  • Chellie Pingree, president and CEO of Common Cause;
  • Randall Robinson, founder of TransAfrica Forum;
  • Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform;
  • Mark Weisbrot, co-director of Center for Economic and Policy Research;
  • Advisory board

    The following civic organizations serve on the Advisory Board of the Citizens' Debate Commission:

  • 20/20 Vision
  • Accuracy In Media
  • Alliance for Better Campaigns
  • The American Cause
  • Appleseed Electoral Reform Project
  • Ballot Access News
  • Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
  • Center for Food Safety
  • Center for Reclaiming America
  • Center for Rural Strategies
  • Center for Voting and Democracy
  • Citizens for Participation in Political Action
  • Citizen Works
  • Common Cause
  • Commonwealth Coalition
  • Conservative Caucus
  • Declaration Foundation
  • Democracy Matters
  • Democracy South
  • Democracy Unplugged
  • Demos
  • Earth Island Institute
  • Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
  • Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting
  • Fannie Lou Hamer Project
  • Federation for American Immigration Reform
  • Free Congress Foundation
  • Free Press
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Fund for Constitutional Government
  • Global Exchange
  • GRACE Public Fund
  • Grassroots Unity
  • Greenpeace
  • Independent Progressive Politics Network
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  • Judicial Watch
  • League of Rural Voters
  • MassVOTE
  • Midwest Democracy Center
  • National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling
  • National Coalition for the Homeless
  • National Priorities Project
  • National Voting Rights Institute
  • The National Youth & Student Peace Coalition
  • National Youth Advocacy Coalition
  • Native Forest Council
  • New Road Map Foundation
  • Ohio Citizen Action
  • Public Campaign
  • Rainforest Action Network
  • RenewAmerica
  • Santa Monica Ranked Voting
  • Student Environmental Action Coalition
  • Texans for Public Justice
  • Tikkun
  • U.S. English
  • The Voting Rights Project of the Institute for Southern Studies
  • References

    Citizens' Debate Commission Wikipedia

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