FOR THE RECORD: Lessig Would Have Qualified for the Debate Under the DNC’s (original) Rule

Sam Frizell’s piece in Time (”Lessig Would Not Have Qualified for CBS Debate”) obscures a pretty important point: Had CBS applied the rules the DNC had originally set, Lessig would have been in the debate. Because they changed the rule, he is not. 

  • When Lessig entered the race, the standard for inclusion in the debates as announced by the Chair was clear: “at least 1% in three national polls, conducted by credible news organizations and polling organizations, in the six weeks prior to the debate.” This rule, we were told by the DNC, “would not change.”
  • We were not convinced that rule made much sense, and we were frustrated that despite meeting that standard in a PPP poll in August, Lessig was not included in most polls after he announced, but in any case, applying that standard, Lessig did not qualify for the first debate.
  • As we approached the second debate, however, it looked like Lessig would qualify. Monmouth found him at 1% — as did 3 other polls (NBCYouGov/Economist, Quinnipiac). Indeed, every poll from Monmouth on that included Lessig’s name found him at 1%. 
  • But late last week, we were informed that the DNC was changing its rule. Citing a different and conflicting document, contradicted by CNN’s actual practice and by the assurances of party leadership, the DNC’s political director told us the standard required we poll “at a minimum of 1% in three separate national polls, conducted by credible news organizations and polling organizations at least six weeks prior to the event.” That change would mean Lessig would not be in the 2nd debate. That led him to withdraw from the race. His withdrawal because of the DNC’s change caused an uproar. 
  • Then CBS changed the rule again. Under their rule — released 10 days before the debate — they require “Polling above 1% in national polls recognized by CBS News over a five week period from September 29th to 12:00 noon on November 3.” That rule changed both the original DNC rule and the revised DNC rule. Like the original DNC rule, the rule looks to to polls in the period just before the debate — but 5 weeks, not 6 weeks, thereby excluding the most recent Quinnipiac poll finding Lessig qualifying. And unlike both the original and revised DNC rule, the standard requires polling “above 1%,” not “at least 1%” as the DNC had specified. (As one supporter commented, “it’s Larrymandering!”)

CBS thus changed the DNC’s rule. No doubt CBS had the right to change the rules. That doesn’t change the fact that the rules were changed. Under the original rule, we qualified. Under the changed rule, we did not. 

—Jeff McLean, Campaign Manager, Lessig for President

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