Making Democracy Work

LWVCC Policy on Candidate Forums and Debates

League of Women Voters of Concord-Carlisle
Policy on Candidate Forums and Debates

(As approved by the Board of Directors on April 2, 2014)

The League of Women Voters of Concord-Carlisle ("LWVCC") is nonpartisan. It neither supports nor opposes political parties or candidates for office. In planning and conducting candidate forums and debates, the LWVCC Board of Directors (the "board") bears responsibility for safeguarding LWVCC's nonpartisan policy and nonpartisan reputation.

This policy includes only general principles and rules and is not intended to address all specific determinations to be made in the process of organizing and running forums and debates. For additional information, see the League of Women Voters of the United States ("LWVUS") publications on debates and forums, including "FAQ's Candidate Forums-Debates," and the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts ("LWVMA") "Policy for Candidates Debates and Forums."

For the purposes of this policy, "debate" is defined as in the Federal Election Commission regulations, as an event that includes at least two candidates, is staged in a way that does not promote or advance one candidate over another, and allows the candidates to appear concurrently, in face-to-face confrontations, with opportunities to respond to each other. "Forum" in this policy means any League-sponsored candidate event that is designed to meet the goals set forth below, which has a format different from a "debate," including an event in which candidates running for office in uncontested races participate.

Goals of a LWVCC Candidate Forum/Debate

The goals of a LWVCC-sponsored forum or debate shall include:

  • promote interest in the election;
  • provide a fair forum for candidates;
  • prepare voters to cast informed votes for candidates;
  • give voters an opportunity to judge candidates' character and relevant knowledge and skills; and
  • document candidates' statements on their positions.

Sponsoring or Co-sponsoring a Forum/Debate

The board will decide whether to sponsor or co-sponsor a forum/debate. LWVCC may sponsor or co-sponsor forums and debates for local offices in the Towns of Concord and Carlisle, for Massachusetts state legislative offices (Representative and Senator) and for U.S. Representative in Congress. LWVCC may sponsor or co-sponsor forums/debates for statewide offices only with the consent of LWVMA. The board must approve any co-sponsorship of a forum/debate. In doing so, it should consider carefully potential effects on LWVCC's nonpartisan status or the public's perception of its nonpartisanship. LWVCC cannot waive its nonpartisan policy, its forum/debate policies or any procedures that ensure fair treatment of candidates.

In general, LWVCC will co-sponsor a candidate forum/debate only with other Leagues of Women Voters. In the event that LWVCC decides to co-sponsor a forum/debate with a non-League organization or organizations, co-sponsors cannot have endorsed or be affiliated with a candidate prior to the forum/debate. If at any time during the planning of a co-sponsored forum/debate, LWVCC believes co-sponsorship of the forum/debate will jeopardize its nonpartisanship, LWVCC must withdraw from its co-sponsorship. For any co-sponsored forum/debate, LWVCC will provide the moderator and timekeeper or will approve of them in advance.

Criteria for Candidate Participation

The board will determine which candidates will be invited to participate in a LWVCC-sponsored forum/debate. When deciding whom to invite to participate in an LWVCC-sponsored candidates forum/debate, LWVCC will adhere to all applicable laws and regulations and will use the following criteria:

1. All candidates whose names will appear on the ballot for the office(s) covered by the forum/debate will be invited to participate.
2. All candidates whose names will not appear on the ballot but who have publicly announced and launched a formal write-in campaign for the office(s) covered by the forum/debate will also be invited to participate.
3. Candidates must meet all the legal qualifications for the office.

In determining eligibility to participate according to these criteria, the burden of proof will be on the candidate, not the League. LWVCC may require candidates to provide information to show that they meet the criteria. Stand-ins for candidates will not be allowed.

Selecting a Moderator

The preferred moderator for a LWVCC candidate forum/debate is a League of Women Voters member who neither resides nor is registered to vote in the town or district served by the office(s) covered by the forum/debate. Any moderator selected for a forum/debate should have training or experience in moderating and understand and agree to abide by League practices and should have no personal or professional relationship with any of the candidates running for the offices covered by the forum/debate.

General Policies for Forums/Debates

1. A forum/debate must comply with any federal, state and local laws and regulations, be open to the public and be held in a place that will not seem to exclude any potential audience members. The forum/debate must be staged in a way that does not promote or advance one candidate over another.

2. LWVCC may sponsor or co-sponsor forums/debates preceding primary elections when there is a contest within a political party/parties. If there is a contest in only one party, LWVCC may sponsor a forum/debate for that party only. If there are contests within more than one party, LWVCC may sponsor a forum/debate for all parties that agree to participate.

3. In the case of a forum/debate preceding a primary, if only one candidate in a contested race for a party's nomination for a particular office agrees to participate, the forum/debate (or that segment of the forum/debate) will not be scheduled. In the case of a forum/debate preceding a general election, if only one candidate for a contested office agrees to participate, the forum/debate (or that segment) will not be scheduled. LWVCC will make reasonable efforts to find a date for its forum/debate that will allow all candidates in a contested race to participate.

4. If any candidate running in a contested race who has agreed to participate cancels well enough in advance of the forum/debate to allow LWVCC to make other arrangements without charge or penalty, LWVCC should make reasonable efforts to reschedule. The closer to the scheduled forum/debate that a candidate cancels his/her appearance, the stronger the arguments for going forward with the forum/debate if at least two other candidates for the office will be participating.

5. LWVCC will communicate in writing with candidates concerning the ground rules for participating in the forum/debate, as well as the actual invitation to participate. LWVCC will take reasonable steps to confirm receipt of all such communications to candidates. LWVCC will retain paper or electronic copies of written communications to and from the candidates about the forum/debate for at least two years after the election.

6. Campaign literature and signs for the candidates participating in the forum/debate must be placed outside the room in which the forum/debate is held and in such locations as are designated by LWVCC. Campaign literature for candidates that declined an invitation to the forum/debate will not be allowed.

7. The League may provide membership information and orally invite membership during the forum/debate.

8. Donations of any kind from candidates or political parties will not be solicited or accepted by LWVCC.

Empty Chair Forum/Debate Policy

LWVCC will follow federal (including FEC, FCC and IRS) laws and regulations that govern the legality of having a forum/debate for a contested office where only one candidate appears, often called an "empty chair" debate. In addition, the following policies will apply:

1. A forum/debate will not start if only one candidate for a contested office is present, but may proceed with candidates running for other offices, if the forum/debate covers more than one office.

2. If a candidate in a contested race who had previously agreed to participate cancels, the forum/debate may proceed if more than one candidate for the office is present. If only one is present, that segment of the forum/debate must be cancelled, except as provided in paragraph 3 below. An LWVCC spokesperson may present without editorial comment any reason for the cancellation given by the candidate. If the candidate who cancelled provides a written statement of the factual reasons for the cancellation, the spokesperson may read it. If no reason is given, the League spokesperson should state that the League was contacted by the candidate or his/her campaign and the candidate would not be able to appear. The spokesperson may state that no reason was given for the cancellation. LWVCC may make reasonable attempts to reschedule the forum/debate.

3. If a candidate in a contested race for a local or state office who had previously agreed to participate in a forum/debate fails to appear, leaving a single candidate for that contested office in attendance at the candidate forum, the candidate at the forum may make a brief statement. The length of such statement will be consistent with the duration allowed for an opening statement for such office or, if no time was allotted for opening statements, limited to the duration allowed for a closing statement. All cameras and other recording devices must be shut off during such brief statement. The candidate will not be asked to respond to questions during the forum.

Recording Policy for Forums/Debates

The official recording of a candidate forum/debate will be made by LWVCC or under its direction. The official recording is the property of LWVCC and may be used only with the LWVCC's express approval. The recording must be shown in its entirety. Candidates cannot use or edit the recording for campaign purposes.

No flash photography is allowed during a forum/debate, and all electronic devices must be silenced. Use of electronic devices by members of the audience must not interfere with the forum/debate or with the audience's ability to see, hear or otherwise participate in the event. These rules will be announced to the audience. LWVCC is not responsible for the content or use of any recording other than the LWVCC's official recording.

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