The idea is a month-long national independent primary campaign, to take place next spring. Details are not set, but Glassman said that some members of the commission itself are discussing the notion. It could work this way: Candidates qualify for the independent primary by gathering enough signatures to get on the ballot in states constituting at least 270 electoral votes (a qualification the CPD has now).
The candidates who clear that bar - let's just guess that there are a half-dozen - will then appear in a series of debates, culminating in an online national primary election. The winner will be the independent, or third-party, representative on the stage in the general election debates. Glassman called this an "exciting idea," almost certain to generate enthusiasm for an alternative to the current duopoly, enforced by the CPD.
Americans want an independent choice. That was clear from Glassman's 40-minute appearance on the C-SPAN morning call-in show, which elicited nearly unanimous support for the concept of opening the presidential debates to a third participant.
You can watch it here.
The authoritative Ballot Access News, edited by Richard Winger, reported in its July 1 edition on the lawsuit filed against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by Level the Playing Field (a group seeking to open the presidential debates) and the Green and Libertarian Parties, the two largest parties after the Republicans and Democrats.
According to Ballot Access News:
The Complaint shows why the Commission on Presidential Debates is not truly non-partisan.... Many of the fifteen Commissioners of the CPD appear to be figureheads. The Board may meet as infrequently as once per year, and generally by conference call. For years, the CPD reported in IRS findings, under penalty of perjury, that its board members devoted zero hours per week to the organization, even in presidential election years....
The Complaint summarizes social science evidence that the 15% poll standard [the CPD's requirement for entrance into the debates - in surveys in mid-September], in practice, can never be met by any presidential candidate who does not go through the major party primary process, unless the candidate spends more than $250,000,000. In reality, therefore, the criteria, are not neutral.
Polling - especially 50 days before an election - is no way to pick a debate participant. In order to be on equal footing with the Democratic and Republican nominees, an independent must know in April, or May at latest, whether he or she will be in the fall debates - in order to generate media attention and financial support.
That is the beauty of a national independent presidential primary. The third participant will be known in time to be able to successfully compete in the general election.
CPD members have said all along that they want to find a way to admit a qualified independent to the debates. Now, they have at least two alternatives: a national independent primary or a competition for valid signatures. Both of these methods meet the set of three principles laid down by the Change the Rule group: 1) A competition - not an arbitrary polling hurdle; 2) Direct voter engagement, and 3) One independent candidate, chosen by April 30.
There may be other methods as well. But time is running out for the 2016 election. It's time for the CPD to step up to the plate.