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The League and Presidential Debates

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After a sixteen year period in which there were no public presidential debates, the League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF) sponsored three presidential debates in 1976.

These debates between Jimmy Carter (D), former governor of Georgia and Gerald Ford (R), President of the United States, were the first to be held since 1960. In 1976 the League also sponsored one vice presidential debate between Senator Walter Mondale (D-MN) and Senator Bob Dole (R-KS). The League continued to sponsor the presidential and vice presidential debates every four years through the 1984 elections. Visit our online presidential debates archive here.

Following that election cycle, the Democratic and Republican national parties came together in a decision to move sponsorship of the debates under the purview of the parties. Between 1985 and 1987 the League challenged this move and sparked widespread public debate on the matter. The LWVEF argued that a change in sponsorship that put control of the debate format in the hands of the two dominant parties would deprive voters of one of the only chances they have to see the candidates outside of their controlled campaign environment.

In 1987 the parties announced the creation of the Commission on Presidential Debates. The commission chose LWVEF to sponsor the last presidential debate of 1988, but placed so many rules and restrictions on the possible format of the debate that the LWVEF was finally unable to agree to participate. In a press release at the time, Nancy Neuman, then LWVUS President, stated that the League had “no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”