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Stand up for your seat at the 2020 presidential debate

| Friday, December 6, 2019

Four and a half months ago at home in Vermont, my sister and I sat before my laptop as the first 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate began to stream. With the political tension in my household, we didn’t bother watching it in the living room. 107 days later, I was standing in the rain on campus being interviewed by ABC 57 on my thoughts about Notre Dame hosting the first presidential debate for the 2020 general election next September. I had never dreamed of seeing a presidential debate live, let alone at the university I attend. However, while notifying my friends and family of the exciting news, someone asked me about student attendance at the debate. I hadn’t thought twice about whether there would be students in the debate audience. It wasn’t until that moment that I wondered if I would even have the opportunity to witness the history that would unfold in our own Purcell Pavilion. 

Naturally, I took to Notre Dame’s official debate page only to discover that the site offered nothing more than Father Jenkins’ official statement. Billy Joel will be on campus just three months earlier than the presidential candidates yet the details about Joel’s performance are much clearer. Information about students’ possible access to debate tickets simply does not exist. I took my frustration to Google, grasping for some idea of my chance of seeing the debate live and stumbled across a site from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which had held a 2016 presidential debate. The site explained that the Commission of Presidential Debates (CPD) allocated a limited, unspecified amount of tickets to the university, which would be distributed to current students by a computerized lottery system. This practice was “recommended by the CPD and consistent with past practices of debate hosts.” No tickets from the university would be allocated to the general public, parents, faculty, or alumni. Students who wanted to enter the lottery had be enrolled full time with a GPA higher than the minimum (2.0 for undergraduates and 3.0 for graduate students) and could not have any pending or outstanding student conduct violations or disciplinary actions. 

The official site of Hofstra University, which also hosted a presidential debate in 2016, shared the same message on the CPD’s recommendation. Their conditions were the same, except they required that students must be a registered voter. However, students who weren’t eligible to register to vote had the ability to enter the lottery all the same. 

These precedents for student ticket distribution give me hope. Being a first year STEM major with a passion for politics, I fear that even if students are given the chance to attend the debate, tickets would be skewed towards upperclassmen and political science students. Though I am neither of these things, I, and every single one of my peers, deserve the opportunity to sit in front of our nation’s future as much as anyone else. Let’s heed UNLV and Hofstra’s precedent with equal opportunity, unbiased lottery systems.

It’s understandable that the University would consider distributing tickets to alumni or important donors so why wouldn’t they choose that route? Why should they be giving these tickets to us? One answer: we are the students of Notre Dame. We attend this University to receive a world class education and to leave as forces for good. As so, we are encouraged to have conversations across the red-blue line. These conversations are something that every student hears about at least once through their Moreau class and even after is still reiterated around campus. You’d think that when the epitome of bridged conversations was going to be held in its midst, Notre Dame would be nearly begging its students to attend — not the other way around. 

Fr. Jenkins, I urge you to remember your students when the CPD drops off the University’s allotment of tickets. I know you will put our education first in the matter, but I hope I stand as a reminder that so many of us want nothing more than a glimpse of our future from the debate. Fellow students, pick up the chatter. This will be the most significant election of the century and a once in a lifetime opportunity — one that I pray not to be missing.

Chessley Jackman

Dec. 1


The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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